Will Low Tech Solve the Jobs Crisis?

Original post by BILL DAVIDOW via The Atlantic

Just as Henry Ford may not have predicted the rise of drive-in movie theaters, the Internet Age will produce changes to our physical landscape we can’t yet envision.

In my last post, I suggested that the recent dip in jobs numbers might signal a long-term trend, as the Second Economy — characterized by computers working among themselves — continues to grow.

The post generated quite a few readers’ comments. “We must ourselves become the computers” was one of my favorites. Another reader suggested “a Marxist redistribution of the proceeds of the economy.” Yet another said he would be surprised if I found a solution “outside of an unrealistic Luddite proposal.”

The solution I see for helping to reverse the trend isn’t very Marxist, nor will it mark me a Luddite. And no, humans will not become computers.

Here’s the idea: construction will be the engine for a much larger fraction of job growth in the Internet Age than we are currently anticipating. I call it a repurposing construction boom.

As a society, we organize our physical infrastructure to take advantage of interconnection technology. In grade school, we learned that early cities were located near harbors, on rivers, and at major road crossings. The railroad shaped much of the 19th and early 20th century urban infrastructure. Cities of that era were walking cities: people lived, worked, and shopped within walking distance of where they lived. Large cities depended on the railroads to carry raw materials to factories. Railroads carried food and coal to the cities, as well as manufactured products to customers. When people attempted to escape the unhealthy living conditions created by sewage and industrial pollution, they fled to the suburbs that grew up along railroad tracks.