The history of groups of skilled people’s relationships with employers is an interesting one, whether weavers in the nineteenth century, or accountants today. Skilled people form groups that enable them to shape the sector and their relationships with and as employers and in doing so become inherently resistant to anything that significantly changes the status quo.
Technology changes the status quo. What happens seems remarkably consistent. The cohesive groups that form and establish standards around their skill rejects technology that threatens them. Instead of “negotiating” with the technology and taking effective ownership of its use by becoming expert at it they compete with it. They negotiate with those in whose interests it is to introduce the technology, which is generally more productive, lower cost and less troublesome than humans. Then they lose. Technology always wins, and those who resist it find themselves specialised in a skill that is no longer needed in the same way. In specialising, they have reduced their transferable skills, and find themselves perfectly equipped for a world that no longer exists.
As we learn the lessons of 2020, technology from Zoom to AI is finding fertile ground. To thrive, those of us threatened by it will have to change our relationship with it.
- Firstly, we have to recognise and respect it for what it can do, and engage with it rather than reject it.
- Secondly, we have to redefine our tasks to take advantage of the technology – to harness it on our own terms rather than diminish it, and hand control to those whose interest is the money, not the craft.
- Thirdly, we have to find ways of talking about it in a “safe space” where we can voice fears as well as ideas.
In short, we have to learn how to handle it before it handles us.
As we head towards 2021, those of us with skills can have the conversations about technology, or let the people with the money do it. Money and its priests have no empathy, or compassion, or creativity, or sense of craft.
Technology and craft are natural partners. Technology on its own will win in the short term if we fight it, and we will all end up the poorer. Technology has a life of its own, and will get what it wants.
Like the planet, unless we adapt to what it needs, it will just carry on without us,