Writing a book is hard. It requires constant feedback and encouragement, and at the same time solitude and space to write. This online publication and forum is an effort to help square the circle by finding support and critical feedback. It will initially focus on two books I’m currently working on: Behemoth: Amazon Rising, and Disposable: Working the Gig Economy.
As I finish draft chapters, I plan to publish them here to be downloaded along with posts summarizing the chapter. I’ll also post the book outline so you can see where the chapter fits. The idea is to offer chapters for you to download, read, comment, and respond to. Doing this via a blog site will make this more fun and I hope interactive (of course, if you prefer to send me your rants directly that’s OK too).
This project originally came out of yet another Washington meeting to laud the great work of high tech innovation in America. I’ve been to more of these than I can count, and they are usually at least good for a pleasant nap in the back row.
But this time, this time – I heard once too often how technology will solve everything, how people will be retrained and rescued from the drudgery of rote work and pulled into a sparkling future of programming and the innovation economy. I heard from White House staff how there are a million programmers now in America, and isn’t that great though of course it will be better once we finish retraining all those workers whose jobs are no longer necessary although it would be even better if they were women or minorities though we know that will take time.
Hearing well-paid, well-educated people explaining how technological unemployment is just an “adjustment problem” got my goat big time: evidence that the disruption screw is already turning on much of the workforce cannot simply be brushed away with the hand-wavings of those who are the primary beneficiaries of global trade and advanced technology.
Change will be both national and international in scale, it will affect all sectors of the economy and a large majority of current jobs, and it will happen at a speed to make us blink.I decided to research and write a book about how the future is sweeping down upon us, how this is one time where the costs of disruption will be far too great to be pushed off onto a few now-unemployed factory workers in Ohio. I called it The Great Disruption for good reason. In it, I will make the case that the combined power of rapidly advancing technology, globalization, ever more efficient corporate structures and strategies, and demographic shifts will sweep us into fast-rising and largely uncharted waters. Change will be both national and international in scale, it will affect all sectors of the economy and a large majority of current jobs, and it will happen at a speed to make us blink.
It turns out, of course, that this is a much larger and more complex topic than I had anticipated. It includes economics, sociology, philosophy, a good deal of science, law, and business management. And of course politics – lots of politics. But as I developed the arguments and ground through the research, it has become clearer than ever that my original instinct was correct. I thought that the pain and anger implicit in a major social disruption would surface politically at a later date – in four years, or eight, or even longer. I was wrong about that. But I don’t think I’m wrong about the extent of change, the speed and scope of change, or about the drivers that we seem powerless to identify let alone influence.
William Gibson once said “the future is already here – it’s just unevenly distributed.” Transformative change is happening all around us right now, while we are paying attention to our kids, out mortgage, and our jobs. It is of course affecting our kids, our housing, and above all our jobs in ways that we can feel but can’t quite put together. The task of this book is to identify and explain what is happening, to those workers and to work more generally, and to find both long term strategies and short/medium term tactics that can help us to manage what I believe to be the predominant challenge of our era.
I am not an expert in many of the disciplines needed to make sense of the Great Disruption and to develop policies and philosophies that will help us manage change instead of being overwhelmed by it. So I need help, which is why I am publishing draft chapters on this Great Disruption blog. I hope you will be critical. I hope you will contribute. I hope you will bring to the table your own concerns and insights. And I hope you find what’s going on here interesting and powerful enough to stay around.