Progress By Any Other Name Would Smell Like Defeat

With all apologies to the Bard; I’m appropriating his exquisite turn of phrase to express an exquisitely painful topic. Painful, because I’m a technology fan and at least semi-tech geek about to express what could be a pretty unpopular opinion.

But I must go there…go to a place where techies seldom go…a place where all technological advances are not inherently good. A place where we note that just because we can do a thing; it doesn’t necessarily mean that we should. 

It is, in fact, an “inconvenient truth” that sometimes what we call an advance for technology, is a setback for humanity–at least as our society worldwide is currently structured. Consider these examples:

I have a friend with a Masters’ degree in Education. She’s been trying for the past eight years to get a full-time job with benefits that pays well enough to enable her to support herself and her family. It’s been an unending struggle, and so far there is little light at the end of the tunnel.

Meanwhile, I read a story last week about a new computer program that will grade student essays just as well as a human teacher. One could look at it as a triumph of technology; a time and effort saving innovation that could revolutionize education at a time when resources are most stretched, and budgets are most tight. It could be seen as a wonder, a splendor, a fantastic new example of progress in education.

But is it really? Is it really progress to replace a human teacher’s evaluation of something as basic as a student’s ability to think, to reason, and to write an intelligent essay? Aren’t teachers supposed to have an intimate connection with their students’ progress along the path of enlightenment? Are they not supposed to grade papers, and to give thoughtful feedback, guidance, and encouragement?

At a time when more and more teachers are losing their jobs; technological “progress” may be leading the way for even more layoffs,  and even more economic hardship for highly educated and gifted teachers who actually care about children–our children.

Another story that struck a dissonant chord with me recently, was about the transfer of yet more US jobs to India. 200 “back office” IT jobs from Diebold near Akron, Ohio, are being transferred because the company claims that workers in India have specialized software expertise. The company also claims that the move will put them in a better position to expand.

Really. This 2.6 billion dollar company claims that they have to outsource US jobs to India because they have better educated workers who can do things that US workers simply cannot do. Hmm.

Well,  I ask again; is it really progress to lay off teachers, and to use technology to reduce the amount of time, thought, and effort needed to foster deep and meaningful connections with their students?

Is it really possible that no US workers actually had the qualifications and knowledge to do the work that Diebold just outsourced? If that is true, it points to a major deficiency in the education of US Information Technology students. Or, even though the company said they weren’t laying off the workers to save money; maybe it was just a convenient excuse to cut costs.

In either case; we lose. We lose as a society, because the talents, passion, and energy of our own people are being discounted, discarded, and disrespected. Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe; there will be rejoicing because of new jobs, new opportunity, and the chance for a better life for more Indian workers. I do not begrudge them their happiness; but I wonder how long it will be before they too are cast aside for cheaper, better educated, more convenient workers somewhere else.

Watch the movie “Outsourced” for a tragic, funny, and surprisingly insightful look at what I realize is not a new phenomenon. The  examples I’ve laid out here are just small parts of a continuing global trend.

But the anguish is real. The time is now. Our people are suffering. We need answers; we need jobs; we need better education; and we need better opportunity.

Nobody ever said it was going to be easy. But for Americans and workers around the world who have done the right thing; who have gotten a good education; who have followed the rules; and who have contributed to society; what is being offered right now other than empty platitudes and technology that strips them of their jobs, their earnings, and when perverted by malware–even their identities and bank accounts?

Where is the thoughtful world leadership that will recognize the intrinsic value of meaningful work? Where is the societal will to acknowledge that we all lose when so many talented workers are sidelined by a faltering global economy?

The Okies fled to California when the dustbowl hit in the ’30s. But in the face of this new and even more devastating global economic windstorm; there is nowhere to run.


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One thought on “Progress By Any Other Name Would Smell Like Defeat

  1. Jeanne, I couldn’t agree with you more. You needn’t look any further than into the face of corporate America, if it had a face, but it doesn’t. Corporations don’t have a soul either. It used to be that Americans fought for and bought American goods which created American jobs. Now, we only want to buy what’s cheap and don’t care where it’s made or who it hurts. Slowly, we decline into the Wal-Mart generation, buying overseas products not because they’re better manufactured but because it’s the only thing we can afford. The more we do this the more the corporations make profit for the executives and the investors. It’s time that the American people speak out, act out and refute any commerce which doesn’t take care of it’s own. “Look for the Union Lable” was a battle-cry!
    Don’t buy or use companies that outsource their labor. Don’t buy products from overseas companies. Create jobs in the USA.

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