When I was a young boy growing up in Den Amstel, West Coast Demerara, there was talk that machines would replace man in the world of work. At the time I found this very scary, because I saw myself going jobless when I grew up, unless I positioned myself to get into the field that made the machines. The result is that I pursued studies in the sciences.
When I grew older I found that the machines weren’t yet ready to displace mankind, that there were actually jobs for people like me. But the idea of machines replacing man in the world of work remains with me to this day.
Recently I sat back and had a look at the advent of machines and found that indeed in many areas they have replaced manual labour. Going back to the days of the Pharaohs, at least according to the movies, men fetched royalty. These days there are cars and trains and planes.
More recently, my ancestors dug the conservancies that stretch along coastal Guyana. Flying over these conservancies one would be surprised at how straight they are. This took a lot of manpower but they persevered. Today, there are draglines. These have certainly removed jobs from many.
In road construction I recalled seeing men spreading the road-building materials. Today there are so many machines that not only has the process quickened tremendously, but those in the industry must concentrate on getting people to operate these machines. It is the same in the mining industry.
Cars are assembled by machines that are even more precise than any man ever was. These days the assembly lines are booming, to the extent that there have been instances of men protesting when the assembly lines became more widespread.
This is not only the case with manual labour. When I joined the newspaper industry the typewriter was king. Every desk had a wastepaper basket that the cleaners emptied almost incessantly. From the typewriter the material went to a proofreader who used his pen to good effect. If the material was too badly marked then there was someone to retype it.
This was then sent to a typesetter who had lead slugs with all the letters. Painstakingly this man had to arrange the words then send the slap to the press after it was proofread again. Later the man who made up the words in such a painstaking manner had to find another job, because the typesetting was done by a computer.
There were large cameras that converted the pictures to print quality. Those cameras have also disappeared, so the cameraman is no longer needed.
There were also changes in the newsroom. The typewriter disappeared and with it the reams of paper. The typesetter also disappeared, only to be replaced by computers.
Every office had a librarian, a woman who would painstakingly cut out clippings and store them in filing cabinets. She was the go-to lady whenever one wanted background information on any issues. She has been replaced by the ubiquitous computer. In fact, for the greater part, the filing cabinet has also been made redundant because the computer remembers just about everything.
The computer is being taken for granted. There is Google that had replaced the voluminous Encyclopedia Britannica, something that was a must in the home of every intellectual. He wanted to research something he turned to the encyclopedia. The people who published and printed those encyclopedias are more than likely out of jobs these days unless they continue to work to put their material online.
In any case the people who packed them and shipped them are no longer needed.
Regardless of the advances machines make in the world of work there would always be jobs for men if they want them. The worrying factor is that in Guyana many young men seem not too keen to contribute meaningfully by doing honest labour.
I shake my head every time I read about a young man getting caught up in criminal activity. Perhaps from early in life they never thought about working, as I did when I was a child. And because of that I look back at the advances in the world of work. I see the development of cameras that have the capability to look at the surroundings all the time.
These cameras are proving useful in many cases, to the extent that events are captured and arrests are made. That being the case, one must wonder at those who dare to commit robberies knowing that there are witnesses all the time.
But back to the influences of machines. Way back when people walked more than anything else. Going to the farm, heading to market and even walking to work was commonplace. The understatement is that people appeared to be healthier. But with cabs and minibuses more than a dime a dozen, we tended to walk less.
A few years back when I walked less than a half mile my calves hurt; they were unaccustomed to the pressure. I changed that in a hurry, but I still see people going around the corner calling for a taxi. I have also seen people standing around for more than an hour waiting for a minibus when had they walked, they would have been home in less time.
The corollary is that those of us who recognize the importance of exercise get on machines to help us keep fit. Indeed, many use the roadways and the parks.
I remember the joke about a fortune teller telling a client that the day would come when people would not be walking to work but that they would be running for fun. The client asked, “But running to where?”
The fortuneteller simply said, “Running around in circles at top speed for the greater part.”
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