From Steven Greenhouse's recent piece in The New York Times:
“Some people think it’s a law that when productivity goes up, everybody benefits,” says Erik Brynjolfsson, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “There is no economic law that says technological progress has to benefit everybody or even most people. It’s possible that productivity can go up and the economic pie gets bigger, but the majority of people don’t share in that gain.”
This sums up one plausible dystopian scenario I see for this century. While I want to believe technology will enable individual economic prosperity by enabling individuals to do things that were previously difficult or impossible to do on their own, I wonder how many individuals we have left.
Ours is a society raised on entitlements. Not just governments, but large companies have become paternalistic entities—deities almost. "Society" has become a kind of endowed insurance through which we transfer the risk of all individual failure at the cost of all individual gain.
In truth, you are entitled to nothing. It really wasn't that long ago on the timescale of humanity that hunger ruled the day. Literal hunger. Survival was an individual's sole responsibility to himself—and to those in his immediate circle of care. Members of groups had well-defined roles, and they acted out those roles with a clear purpose: to solve the problem of survival today so that they may solve it again tomorrow.
Now things are ominously opposite. We think work should just exist for the sake of getting paid. We think that a job should "be there" for someone who followed steps one, two, and three.
The connection between work and problem solving seems to be all but completely severed. Perhaps the greatest folly of our time is the apparent absence of work in an era when so many problems exist.
The purest form of problem solving starts with individual curiosity. For those that still have that daily hunger, technology will be an accelerant for prosperity. The future is less bright for those that have lost the fire to help themselves.