Opinion | Technology Is Undermining Everyone’s Business

By: | March 11, 2019

Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

When was the last time you bought a calculator? A camera? A music CD? A video camera? A DVD?

How about a flashlight? Or a printed calendar full of cute kittens? For many of us, it’s been a while since we bought any of these items. I mean, actually paid our own money for them.

Why should we? We can access all of these functions on smartphones or web apps. Not only can we access them, we expect them for free.

But do we ever consider the plethora of independent companies — the “old fashioned” flashlight companies, camera makers and the calendar printers — how these free apps have affected them?

How many of these organizations have gone under because they have not made a sale in years? What happened to their employees? Did those companies see this as a catastrophic risk? Was anyone watching?

In the news, we hear of heightened concerns surrounding the effect of us leaning away from using coal as an energy source. Mines and miners are shutting down and out of work. Politicians make vague promises to bring back their jobs in spite of the tsunami tide of technological transformation of that very industry.

But a trend is clear. Technology is making things cheaper — or even free — across a spectrum of industries. Right or wrong, technology is demonetizing “goods” and “services.”

Let’s jump ahead a few years. Imagine a world where we get everything free or almost free. Imagine your cost of living. The world’s poorest have a chance to improve their lives thanks to access to these technologies.

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But if products and services stop having value and there are no jobs available to make things or service anyone, what is left of value? What skills would we humans need to exist? Will we have to work? And if not, how will the world rotate economically? Will we be required to cater only to basic Maslowian needs where basic survival knowledge is the most marketable and useful skill?

A book from 2012, “Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think” by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler, defines “demonetization” as the means by which technology takes a product or service previously expensive and makes it cheaper or even free.

A future world is depicted, backed with compelling statistics, “where everyone has access to clean water, food, energy, health care, education, and everything else that is necessary for a first-world standard of living, thanks to technological innovation.”

This book, written years ago, makes me pause to wonder if there’s something to this belief. Is there a true risk of this happening? Or is this “techno-utopianism at its worst” as one critic wrote?

Either way, as we risk professionals plod along with our smartphones in our pockets, maybe we should start giving this broader consideration and inject this thinking into our work and risk registering. &

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]