mm368: Knowledge: Blast furnace of the 21st century

MUDGE’s Musings

Do you feel buffeted by the forces of the post-industrial revolution? How can you not?

The history of technology is a frequent visitor to this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©, mostly because it has long been of interest to yr (justifiably) humble svt. Also, because the macro changes occurring all around us are, of course, culminations, or at least stops along the way, of trends that began when humans created civilization, perhaps 10,000 years ago.

L-HC‘s History of Technology

mm361: Gin, television, Web 2.0
mm359: The Navy’s ferry tale — unhappy ever after
mm278a: Don’t look back: Something gaining on you
mm272: What the devil time is it anyway?
mm228: Toothpicks — Good to great to gone
mm224: Dec. 17, 1903: A seminal date in history
mm195: Edison and Tesla
mm159: Sputnik | Spacemen are from Mars
mm119: Creating the sequitur
mm104: There She Blew

The ages of human development have long been characterized, and popularized, by the most important attribute of the era. Thus we can cite some of the various ages, stone (which actually predates modern homo sapiens), agriculture, discovery, mercantile, industrial.

Have we moved beyond the industrial age? David Brooks tackled this topic in yesterday’s NYTimes.


The Cognitive Age

Op-Ed Columnist | By DAVID BROOKS | Published: May 2, 2008

If you go into a good library, you will find thousands of books on globalization. Some will laud it. Some will warn about its dangers. But they’ll agree that globalization is the chief process driving our age. Our lives are being transformed by the increasing movement of goods, people and capital across borders….

Hillary Clinton summarized the narrative this week: “They came for the steel companies and nobody said anything. They came for the auto companies and nobody said anything. They came for the office companies, people who did white-collar service jobs, and no one said anything. And they came for the professional jobs that could be outsourced, and nobody said anything.”

The globalization paradigm has turned out to be very convenient for politicians. It allows them to blame foreigners for economic woes. It allows them to pretend that by rewriting trade deals, they can assuage economic anxiety. It allows them to treat economic and social change as a great mercantilist competition, with various teams competing for global supremacy, and with politicians starring as the commanding generals.

But there’s a problem with the way the globalization paradigm has evolved. It doesn’t really explain most of what is happening in the world.

You had to know it wouldn’t be that simple. All those highly paid blue collar jobs, defunct and moved to Mexico, China, Vietnam.

The customer service providers answering your calls, in accented English from boiler rooms in Bengaluru and Manila.

The guys eviscerating the next generation of U.S. technology managers cheaply writing computer code in Bucharest and Kolkata and Sofia.

Those are jobs seeking their own level, from developed, to developing, to the third world. But, if this were really all that was happening, one might imagine unemployment in the U.S. to be far above the current 5%, exacerbated by this latest recession.

The chief force reshaping manufacturing is technological change (hastened by competition with other companies in Canada, Germany or down the street). Thanks to innovation, manufacturing productivity has doubled over two decades. Employers now require fewer but more highly skilled workers. Technological change affects China just as it does the America. William Overholt of the RAND Corporation has noted that between 1994 and 2004 the Chinese shed 25 million manufacturing jobs, 10 times more than the U.S.

The central process driving this is not globalization. It’s the skills revolution. We’re moving into a more demanding cognitive age. In order to thrive, people are compelled to become better at absorbing, processing and combining information. This is happening in localized and globalized sectors, and it would be happening even if you tore up every free trade deal ever inked.

Our politicians have kicked around NAFTA and the WTO and the concept of free trade forever. As if China and India and the Philippines and Romania and Bulgaria were our enemies. [A subject, actually for a whole other post: the actual enemies of the U.S.: Saudi Arabia and the other state or stateless Islamofascists, Iran, North Korea, and once again, Russia.]

In this context, our very real enemy is inertia. A job with one company for life hasn’t existed for a generation.

Better we more effectively inculcate our population with concept of lifelong learning.

No Child Left Behind is a typically Republican mean-spirited joke: our children won’t grow up to compete against standardized tests. Rather, they will compete against increasingly highly educated and technologically sophisticated workforces around the world.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The Cognitive Age – New York Times

Hiring managers will tell you that the chief value of a newly minted college graduate is not in skills immediately applicable to the job being filled (not with that degree in English literature, certainly, nor even an undergraduate business degree), but rather to certified educability.

HR types have been telling us for years that the best skill we can acquire is the ability to frequently learn new skills. That’s the impact of our hyperlinked age.

If you are over 50 years old, I’m willing to wager that the number of employers you’ve had in your working life exceeds five, and the number of positions, of types of jobs done, is well into double figures.

Or, you’re collecting unemployment benefits, such as they might be, from your union, or your state.

So it’s what’s in our heads, and what capacity we have to add to what’s in our heads, and our children’s and grandchildren’s heads, that will determine our economic success, nay survival, in this new, cognitive, age as Brooks so eloquently labels it.

I hope I’m ready. Are you?

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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