Technology and Modern America :
The microeconomic picture of the U.S. has changed immensely since 1973 and the trends are proving to be consistently downward for the nation's high school graduates and high school drop-outs. "Of all the reasons given for the wage squeeze - international competition, technology, deregulation, the decline of unions and defense cuts - technology is probably the most critical. It has favored the educated and the skilled," says M. B. Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of U.S. News & World Report (7/31/95).
Since 1973, wages adjusted for inflation have declined by about a quarter for high school dropouts, by a sixth for high school graduates and by about 7% for those with some college education. Only the wages of college graduates are up.
Of the fastest growing technical jobs, software engineering tops the list. Carnegie Mellon University reports, recruitment of its software engineering students is up this year by over 20%. All engineering jobs are paying well, proving that highly skilled labor is what employers want! "There is clear evidence that the supply of workers in the [unskilled labor] categories already exceeds the demand for their services," says L. Mishel, Research Director of Welfare Reform Network. In view of these facts, I wonder if these trends are good or bad for society. "The danger of the information age is that while in the short run it may be cheaper to replace workers with technology, in the long run it is potentially self-destructive because there will not be enough purchasing power to grow the economy," M. B. Zuckerman.
My feeling is that the trend from unskilled labor to highly technical, skilled labor is a good one! But, political action must be taken to ensure that this societal evolution is beneficial to all of us. "Back in 1970, a high school diploma could still be a ticket to the middle income bracket, a nice car in the driveway and a house in the suburbs. Today all it gets is a clunker parked on the street, and a dingy apartment in a low rent building," says Time Magazine (Jan 30, 1995 issue).
However, in 1970, our government provided our children with a free education, allowing the vast majority of our population to earn a high school diploma. This means that anyone, regardless of family income, could be educated to a level that would allow them a comfortable place in the middle class. Even restrictions upon child labor hours kept children in school, since they are not allowed to work full time while under the age of 18. This government policy was conducive to our economic markets and allowed our country to prosper from 1950 through 1970. Now, our own prosperity has moved us into a highly technical world that requires highly skilled labor. The natural answer to this problem, is that the U.S.
Government's education policy must keep pace with the demands of the highly technical job market. If a middle class income of 1970 required a high school diploma, and the middle class income of 1990 requires a college diploma, then it should be as easy for the children of the 90's to get a college diploma, as it was for the children of the 70's to get a high school diploma. This brings me to the issue of our country's political process, in a technologically advanced world.
The advance of mass communication is natural in a technologically advanced society. In our country's short history, we have seen the development of the printing press, the radio, the television, and now the Internet. All of these, able to reach millions of people. Equally natural, is the poisoning and corruption of these medias, to benefit a few. From the 1950's until today, television has been the preferred media. Because it captures the minds of most Americans, it is the preferred method of persuasion by political figures, multinational corporate advertising, and the upper 2% of the elite who have an interest in controlling public opinion. Newspapers and radio experienced this same history, but are now somewhat obsolete in the science of changing public opinion. Though I do not suspect television to become completely obsolete within the next 20 years, I do see the Internet being used by the same political figures, multinational corporations, and upper 2% elite, for the same purposes. At this time, in the Internet's young history, it is largely unregulated, and can be accessed and changed by any person with a computer and a modem; no license required and no need for millions of dollars of equipment. But, in reviewing our history, we find that newspaper, radio and television were once unregulated too. It is easy to see why government has such an interest in regulating the Internet these days. Though public opinion supports regulating sexual material on the Internet, it is just the first step in total regulation, as experienced by every other popular mass media in our history. This is why it is imperative to educate people about the Internet, and make it be known that any regulation of it is destructive to us, not constructive! I have been a daily user of the Internet for 5 years (and a daily user of BBS communications for 9 years), which makes me a senior among us. I have seen the moves to regulate this type of communication, and have always openly opposed it.
My feelings about technology, the Internet, and political process are simple. In light of the history of mass communication, there is nothing we can do to protect any media from the sound byte or any other form of commercial poisoning. But, our country's public opinion doesn't have to fall into a nose-dive of lies and corruption, because of it! The first experience I had in a course on Critical Thinking came when I entered college. As many good things as I have learned in college, I found this course to be most valuable to my basic education. I was angry that I hadn't had access to the power of critical thought over my twelve years of basic education. Simple forms of critical thinking can be taught as early as kindergarten. It isn't hard to teach a young person to understand the patterns of persuasion, and be able to defend themselves against them.
Television doesn't have to be a weapon against us, used to sway our opinions to conform to people who care about their own prosperity, not ours. With the power of a critical thinking education, we can stop being motivated by the sound byte and, instead we can laugh at it as a cheap attempt to persuade us.
In conclusion, I feel that the advance of technology is a good trend for our society. However, it must be in conjunction with advance in education so that society is able to master and understand technology. We can be the masters of technology and not let it be the masters of us.
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