Let’s face it: the economy is really challenging right now. To review: We have a teetering economic system that’s been reeling from a severe housing crisis (caused by a combination of greedy investment bankers and gullible homeowners); we have an unemployment rate that seems to be permanently floating just above 9%; we have companies shipping jobs overseas by the truckload (especially to China)–and that’s across just about every single manufacturing sector.
This past weekend, my company sponsored Betascape, a conference focused on the intersection of art & technology. One of the speakers was my good friend, Jan Baum, who has been working her tucas off to launch Towson University’s new digital fabrication lab. Jan’s talk focused on how digital technology is allowing artists and designers to rapidly prototype and produce new works that were entirely impossible before. She talked about a lot of things, but one thing that stuck with me was that these technologies are enabling new business models.
And that sparked an even more interesting discussion with my friend, Gayle Carney, founder and executive director of the Center for Technology Services, about how underserved communities are not introduced to technologies such as Jan’s digital fabrication lab. In fact, it’s often not an issue of lack of access, but rather the issue is that no one talks to them about the possibilities that technology can hold–as a producer.
One of the strongest narratives in American culture has become that we are a society of consumers. Today, that is a narrative that needs to be reversed. The US was founded with a DIY attitude that says build it if it doesn’t exist. That says we can work to solve our problems through innovation–not consumption.
With the economy in the shape its in, we have to realize that economic structures that created and fostered a strong middle-class (which is needed for strong consumption) no longer exists–at least not in the sense we are used to. We have to realize that the jobs of the future are jobs we create ourselves. In other words, in a world where job opportunities are shrinking rapidly–we need to create them ourselves. More importantly, we need to work with the working poor and teach them how to be entrepreneurial, how to create their own jobs, and how to carve their own future. It’s not going to be achieved by working hard. It may not even be achieved by going to school (especially because our education system is in such disrepair). It’s going to be achieved by putting the tools such as a digital fabrication lab into their hands. We have no choice, unless creating a class of citizens who are permanently unemployed is an option. Which it shouldn’t be.