Did The Internet Destroy The Middle Class?

destroy the middle classVia Salon, virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier puts forth his argument that it is so:

The photography company Kodak employed more than 14,000 people. They even invented the first digital camera. But today Kodak is bankrupt, and the new face of digital photography has become Instagram. The number of people who are contributing to the system to make it viable is probably the same. Instagram wouldn’t work if there weren’t many millions of people using it.

So there’s still a lot of human effort, but the difference is that whereas before when people made contributions to the system that they used, they received formal benefits, which means not only salary but pensions and certain kinds of social safety nets. Now, instead, they receive benefits on an informal basis. And what an informal economy is like is the economy in a developing country slum. It’s reputation, it’s barter, it’s that kind of stuff.

You have this intense concentration of the formal benefits, and that winner-take-all feeling is not just for the people who are on the computers but also from the people who are using them. So there’s this tiny token number of people who will get by from using YouTube or Kickstarter, and everybody else lives on hope.

We kind of made a bargain, a social contract, in the 20th century that even if jobs were pleasant people could still get paid for them. Because otherwise we would have had a massive unemployment. And so to my mind, the right question to ask is, why are we abandoning that bargain that worked so well?

I mean, the whole idea of a job is entirely social construct. The United States was built on slave labor. Those people didn’t have jobs, they were just slaves. The idea of a job is that you can participate in a formal economy even if you’re not a baron.

We can look at musicians and artists and journalists as the canaries in the coal mine, and is this the precedent that we want to follow for our doctors and lawyers and nurses and everybody else? Because technology will get to everybody eventually.

Read the rest at Salon.

6 Comments on "Did The Internet Destroy The Middle Class?"

  1. Chaos_Dynamics | May 16, 2013 at 3:51 pm |

    Did The Internet Destroy The Middle Class?


    The Internet/World Wide Web provides access, integration, decentralization, and distribution to information and knowledge.

    It has empowered everyone everywhere.

    It is still unfolding and expanding.

  2. No. Decisions by the 0.01% did. The Internet was simply one of many convenient tools. The same people used phone calls to politicians as well. Did the public telco system destroy the middle class?

    There’s a disturbing tendency by “Futurists” to say that outcomes which are bad for the bottom 99% are a “natural” outgrowth of “inevitable” trends that come out of the void.

    “Everybody’s to blame”=”Nobody’s to blame” is a seductive narrative telling us we’re all spectators and there is nothing to do but watch the world fall apart around us. To become an informed citizen in the Internet Age, the first thing you must do is resist this and think for yourself.

    These “natural” trends always come from elite decisions. Of course, the Party Line that says there are never any wealthy individuals whose decisions are responsible for human suffering and economic decline and that if we are to get the best possible future, we MUST protect the “wise, benevolent” techno-capitalist class from the EVILS of TAXES does keep Futurism funded.

    Does anyone think Transhumanism and Singularitarianism get wealthy backers for any other reason? Who funds the Futurist online/offline press aka Singularity PR machine? Look at techno-capitalist political donations to see what their REAL “Futurist” visions are. Theil’s PAC donations and Zuckenberg’s pro-global warming PAC.

    Those who believe that ecodisaster and economic disaster in progress are a result of “natural”, “inevitable” causes are invited to provide examples of Empires which were destroyed by causes other than bad decisions by their elites. No hurry, take time to read Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse” for inspiration. Add a few books with titles like “Fall of the [insert name] Empire”.

    Why can’t we “afford” nice things like education and scientific research and transition to renewable energy and other things which will be required if technological civilization will survive? The wealthy have decided to get a free ride, they no longer want to pay their share of the costs needed to protect the system that allowed their families to accumulate wealth.

    They share a delusional belief they pay soothsayers academic experts and Futurists to repeat back to them that their wealth will buy their kids immunity from the consequences of their own actions. This sort of crap has been going on for a very long time, and mostly explain how the ancient empires became history and why their elites frequently got included in subsequent dieoffs.

    Do Apple and Google put their most creative people on the task of looking for bigger and better tax breaks? If so, is that of benefit to the rest of us?

  3. BuzzCoastin | May 16, 2013 at 7:46 pm |

    there never was a middle class
    those people are what Orwell called The Outer Party members
    servants to the elite class & a buffer between the elites & the Plebes

    one really great thing the Internet has accomplished
    is to make a lot of valuable information available to those searching for it
    information that could set you free from The System
    if you’re one of the few looking for a way out & knew what to look for & how

    you don’t need a job to survive
    but you do need to know how to survive without it
    & the information is out there for those looking

  4. Shifting labour away from where the product of that labour is consumed destroyed the middle class and that was driven by nothing but greed.

    • A classic example of a “inevitable”, “natural” trend that was neither. Automation could have kept factory jobs in the US, but super-cheap Third World labor requires less capital investment and provides more short-term profit. Until the labor develops enough skills that it isn’t cheap anymore and suddenly, a nation finds itself full of unemployed.

      Next offshoring target, North Korea. (google for this, I’m not kidding)

  5. Dexter Doodle | May 21, 2013 at 3:20 pm |

    No, Obama did.

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