Those of a certain age or older will remember the promises oft given out that technology will make man superfluous to everyday tasks, leaving him to enjoy his well earned life of leisure unsullied by toil.
Rod Taylor’s proto-steampunk trip (in more than one sense) via The Time Machine to a hippy-esque future warned of the perils regarding attaining a nihilistic unthinking society but the predictions were still dangled before us. They were given the added gloss of seemingly being a near reachable Nirvana.
The prophets for me were Raymond Baxter, Michael Rodd and Judith Hann of the BBC’s Tomorrrow’s World; endlessly singing the virtues of devices and autonomous gizmos that would vacuum the house, carry out the transactions of business and generally make us all redundant for everything bar drinking, singing and lazing about in the sunshine.
The obvious question is “what happened to rob us of all this?” but going a step further I think we should actually be asking “have we benefited from the advance of technology at all?” At this point I must ask you to note that I am purely talking about our quality of life with regard to how hard we work.
Automotive technologies, medicine and so on are undeniably better than 5, 10 or 20 years ago. However here at Amalgamated Products Limited I have noticed an increased expectation regarding what we produce coupled with yet wider calls on our time. None of us mind a bit of hard work but, rather than making what we achieve easier, more powerful tools have meant that less people are able to undertake more tasks within the engineering process.
No longer do we have separate stress and thermal departments, not when software packages are able to work their magic on the solid models created within the CAD environment. Of course we Design Engineers now have to master these disciplines in addition to our more traditional duties. It is impacting on our lives outside of work too. There is still the need to work late when required but the advent of the jet age that brought us mere plebs the Costa del Sol has also meant that our companies can dispatch us across the world at short notice and regular intervals to deal with issues “on the spot.” I, like many of my colleagues, am now on first name terms with various immigration officials in what were once exotic lands.
We operate in a global economy and the situation “is what it is.” Perhaps in hindsight the drive of international capitalism made our current position inevitable but there is a certain irony in our being at the polar opposite, in one aspect at least, to what was predicted as a consequence of ever advancing technology. Rather than lifting the oppressive yoke from man’s shoulders it has merely added more weight to it.