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Can You Still Move up in America?

November 27, 2011

I spent Thanksgiving in Korea, which was wonderful. Traveling around and living in different places as much as I have these past few years, it has been easy to lose track of place, people, and connections; or for that matter, an accepted way of doing things that is overall very people-friendly and not as profit-oriented as just about everything in America is. Today I head back to Guam with some reluctance.

 

The other thing that happens on these trips is I get to read a lot of current events outside my normal reading venues. What caught my eye this trip is the Nov. 14 issue of Time, titled on the cover, “Can You Still Move up in America?” This was a satisfying issue—one that contained meaningful articles that attempt to genuinely engage the tougher questions on a very complex matter. In the article “Whatever Happened to Upward Mobility?” there’s an excerpted quote splashed on pg. 34: “As long as educational achievement keeps up with technological gains, more jobs are created.” I’ve written on this blog before about how technology will likely be key to raising people out of poverty. It’s no secret really: technology is eliminating jobs and without constant training to keep up with never ending innovation, a person is likely to get left in the dust employment-wise. So in a practical sense, without a knowledge of what's happening in the world in terms of commonplace innovations, a person is likely to have a harder time finding employment on a livable wage. For better or worse, we are living in an age of dramatic technological revolution.

 

What’s the threshold of this curve though, I wonder? Where is it headed? And what does it mean to our global society and individual nations? Furthermore, and I think just as important a question: where should the burden of keeping up with all this innovation be placed? Is it fair to place it all on the consumer? Because the worker in this scenario is also the consumer. The simple answer to these questions in the short term and the now is an increased division of “haves” and “have nots.”

 

Art once again seems to have been far ahead of the reality we currently live. Artists have given us visions of humanity where, because of technology, work, success, wealth, poverty, etc. and what these and other topics mean is vastly different from today. If we are to live together as human beings and survive as a planetary society, at some point the benefits of technology are going to have to be shared and not privileged—and not just some of the benefits but all. What need will there be for war and poverty then?

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