What goes around, comes around; history is a never ending repeating cycle. We can look to the horizon and see the work life and economy of Ancient Rome returning.
In the next few decades, humans may revert to a society where the primary occupations are agriculture and food preparation, basic service industry jobs and the manufacture of small scale handcrafted items. The reason: 3D printers may make large scale manufacturing obsolete. The
is claiming within 20 years, you will be able to print off a new pair ofsneakers. When you factor in quantum molecules, there is essentially no limit to what that technology can create, other than organics fit for human consumption. Creating those is a much harder endeavor. Pirate Bay
While I am skeptical of the timeline that they are putting forth (aren't we supposed to have flying cars, robot servants and colonies on the moon by now?) I do not doubt that we will have the technology at some point in the next century. And once we have it, it will spell the end of our current economy as we know it.
First, we will begin to lose manufacturing. It will be the simpler products first, like clothing, that has uniform materiality, or the very high tech products, like computers, which already are created primarily by printing processes right now. Then it will expand to printing objects like car parts (which they are also planning for) and once that happens, how long will it be until entire cars can be printed.
Admittedly, printers on that scale will not be household items, but it could be very possible for you to go to a car dealer in the future and order up your car and then wait for it to be printed out. Similarly, you go to the contractor, and they haul a building-sized printer out to the building site and print your new house right up for you, furniture included.
And with that, the entire manufacturing industry goes away, except for boutique artisans who handcraft objects for technophobes or iconoclasts who insist on human made products. Otherwise, all of our hardgoods will come out of the printer's hopper.
Soon you will even see designers begin to disappear as design your own (whatever) software becomes readily available. These programs are already beginning to cut into home design, as people are bringing in plans they came up with using the design your own home program.
Add to that the idea that the iPhone will have the ability to take blood and saliva samples to diagnoseany illness. Researchers in
are already beginning to develop this technology. With robotic surgeons, and digital diagnosis, there will be very little left for doctors to do. South Korea
This is the next wave of a revolution that began with the first textile mills, which eliminated the need for hand woven cloth, except, again, for highly specialized artistic or luxury purposes. The assembly line, the robot, the computer, the self scanning checkout lane, all of them have reduced the need for human labor, and yet at the same time increased the amount of goods to consume.
The unexpected ramifications of this are staggering. We have had to create a consumer driven economy in order to consume all that we create; our products, our stuff, literally controls our lives. We have planned obsolesce simply to make people buy replacements of things they already own; if you only needed to buy one refrigerator every generation, there would be no refrigerator industry. My aunt and uncle had a refrigerator that they purchased when they got married in the 1940's. That refrigerator was still in their house and working when my aunt sold it in 2003. You cannot tell me that in 2012, we cannot build a refrigerator that lasts for over 50 years with no repair, given that we were able to do so in 1945.
For the same reason, fashion and design change at lightning pace. The couch you bought five years ago now looks dated and unstylish, and you need a new one, so that you don't look behind the times. A couch is harder to make break down, since there are no moving parts, so other strategies to get you to buy a new one have to be employed. It is all a game to keep the industrial machine humming.
But the side effect of automation in this process is we no longer need very many people to build it, yet we need them to be employed to buy it, hence a service based economy. When my grandparents were growing up, there were very few restaurants, and most of those existed in conjunction with hotels, to cater to travelers. My grandmother only ate in a restaurant maybe twenty times in her whole life. Thirty years ago, when I was a kid, there were only three restaurants in our neighborhood, a McDonalds, a casual diner, and a decent Italian restaurant. Now there are at least 12, not counting the four Starbucks. (And you can stand outside of any one of those and see the other three, I'm not joking.)
With fewer and fewer manufacturing jobs, we have had to expand the service industries to pick up the slack. We've even had to create new services, like personal trainer, massage therapist and dog walker, to compensate for the loss of manufacturing jobs. And the worst thing is, these jobs will never pay as much as those lost industrial wages.
And this will result in the eventual end of manufacturing, because no one will have enough money to buy the products, at least not on the scale that is necessary to keep the assembly lines humming. So really the only answer is to eliminate the assembly line and completely automate the process, which is what the 3-D printer revolution will bring about.
But this new revolution will require a radical rethinking of the economy. There will be no manufacturing jobs, not even running the assembly line, because there won't be an assembly line. Moreover, a large segment of the cost of goods comes from the overhead of running the factory, and with no factory, there is no overhead, in fact, there isn't even really a company if you make the object in your own house on your own 3-D printer, so the cost of goods will have to drop. Maybe money can be made from the design, but that is about all. You might even subscribe to brands like you do to Netflix, with unlimited downloads and printouts.
So really, in this new high tech economy, we might look very much like a low-tech agrarian economy, with the only jobs being in agriculture and service industries.
The only other professions we would need would be all of the copyright lawyers and digital police to try and stop all of the illegal downloads of Nike shoes.