Strange title for a technical site, isn't it? This is something I was thinking about for a while. Not sure if I will be able to explain my thoughts but I am going to try. These thoughs were, in fact, triggered by the recent strike of Canada Post. This is not the place for me to talk about how do I like the unions and how they abuse the power they have. In fact, the reason for the strike was very simple: the crown corporation is not making enough money so it cannot afford to support the luxurious working conditions (well, it is all relative but…) for their staff.

While I do not want to discuss if Canada Post should go to the bank and borrow money to pay their employees for 6-week vacation, the point is - the mail system is not handling as many letters as before, this is why the revenue is down. And all this thanks to the technology. Even considering that not that many people are geek enough to do banking entirely online, the people are sending less and less letters replacing them with emails, chat, SMS etc.

What is about looking at this from the perspective of the postman who does not have enough work to do because of the technological progress? The technology breaks the business models and destroys the professions that were successful and in demand for many dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of years.

Another example from the same area - local utility company called Hydro Quebec. For many years the army of their employees was walking the streets of every single village in Quebec, going into each backyards (often not being very welcome there ;) ) to personally read the numbers from the mechanical electric meters and write them down on the paper. Later they have switched to some kind of mobile terminals, I believe, but they still had to look at the needles and do some basic rounding of the numbers. Not always successfully, by the way ;) Hydro Quebec was technically ready to replace the old meters with new ones that could be accessed over phone lines many years ago. Apparently, they have faced strong union resistance. Obviously, you do not need an army of human beings to read the meters in this scenario. Hydro Quebec has given up that time. Now they are back with wireless meters that allow to read it from a good distance in a second. As a consumer, this time I hope the progress will win. However, this does mean that the army of meter readers will have nothing to do and they most likely will have to look for another job.

Every time you buy online from that strange e-shop in Hong Kong which ships for free from another side of the planet you make the local guy selling these goods on nearby plaze very upset. Quite often I see articles praising the role of local business and small retail, blaming Wal-Mart and others for destroying the local economies and forcing the people out of business. Strangely enough, that guy at local plaze often buys his goods from the same store in Hong Kong, but after receiving them he or she increases the price ten times trying to make a decent profit. Is it moral to use the modern e-commerce to destroy the local business? Is it moral to heavily overcharge the consumer in modern e-commerce world?

I do believe that the technology, the “new ways of doing things” are killing the businesses and making some ordinary people who did not deserve more poor. But why does it happen? Is technology an evil? I do not think so. I think the problem is that the people are not flexible enough to adjust to the reality and instead of trying to find a suitable place in the new world they either give up or try to adjust the reality so it reshapes back to the model they like (yes, that is where the unions become very helpful ;) ).

You may ask: what if the people cannot adjust? At the end, not everyone is capable of learning something new because of the educational background, age, personal learning skills, family situation…you name it. I think the answer to this is quite simple: the business should be more responsible for forseeing their future and helping the people to use their skills in new roles so the business can benefit from it even more. Letter traffic is down, not enough work for the postman? Well, e-commerce absolutely requires shipping packages from online stores and their warehouses to the customers. Reallocate your staff, put more emphasis on serving online business, make the rates attractive so they ship with Canada Post instead of UPS (which is now often cheaper that the regular Canada Post package!). You lose on letters - you gain on packages. High volume will bring in additional revenue and you will need your staff to handle it.

Unfortunately, this is not as simple as it sounds but one thing I know for sure - we advance very fast and the technology evolves making our lifes…well, at least different. I know it because I work with technology for many years and I am doing my part in pushing it forward. It can be slowed down but cannot be stopped and reversed. So the small guy running little local store selling HDMI cables for $60 will be out of business sooner or later. People need to look forward to see what is coming (and if they cannot - they need help with that!) so they can find their rigthful place in ever-changing world.

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11 August 2011