Technology development and use is one of the distinguishing human characteristics. Throughout history, technological developments have led to new opportunities and problems as civilizations progressed through periods where work focused on agriculture, organizational structures, trade, industry, services, and knowledge work. However, increasing rates of technological change, as experienced in information technology, have led to major qualitative and quantitative changes within project and educational life cycles. Although productivity has improved, information technology advances have also created many problems, such as unanticipated risks (spam, identity theft), increased stress, and social changes through job movement and investment uncertainty seems to be continuing with advances and convergence of information technology, biotechnology, and emerging nanotechnology. Francis Heylighen articulated this issue as the reduction in barriers to information led to increases in complexity and instability.
This rapid change in the way information technology is applied to perform work might also contribute to the growing inequality in incomes. This greater disparity might be related to a change in the productivity distribution of knowledge workers. Specialization in a professional field is still a factor in determining productivity. However, there are now additional requirements as information technology has been utilized in workplaces to “flatten” organizations’ hierarchy and reduce support staff. The remaining workers are required to leverage the technology to conduct more tasks for themselves including coordination, planning, just-in-time training, and communication in networked teams. This leads to an increased number of skills necessary to compete in the knowledge labor market.
This specialization in generalization has been successfully tried before. In human evolution, the early humans were not the fastest runners, the most armored defenders, nor the greatest predators with claws and teeth. Instead, it was the development of the information technology of the day, the human brain, which allowed humans to live and migrate in a variety of environments to extract the local resources. It was this generalization to adapting to the environment that was early human’s specialization.
If the productivity of an individual is not based on any one skill level, but instead depends on the expression of a set of skills simultaneously (e.g., analytical, negotiating, and social), then productivity would depend on the product of the skill levels. The resulting distribution of products of skill levels among a group of individuals would be a log-normal distribution. A larger number of skills required in work results in a more skewed distribution, as has been observed in incomes and wealth distributions. The recent rapid increase in the income inequality since the 1980s in the U.S. income distribution is consistent with the average skill level nearly doubling. Perhaps this problem might just go away if the next phase in economic work emphasizes other factors. However, the knowledge economy is becoming more integrated into a wider set of work, such as agriculture and industry. It seems that as higher technology is applied to work situations, the need for higher levels of human attributes becomes greater, as technology replaces some of the more automated human tasks, e.g., physical, mental, to ethical.
What do you think?