By Letter to the Editor on April 11, 2020.
Governments are paying many people for doing nothing during the current COVID-19 crisis. Is this our future?
Once I nearly missed a flight because I got confused with a self-check-in machine and needed a help of an airline attendant. Furthermore, there were fewer luggage drop-off counters; the customers had to spend more time in line. Airlines are saving money with smaller staff at the expense of customers’ time. Progress means fewer people?
A 14-year-old geek can handle the automatic checkout with one eye on their smartphone, but not me. I didn’t want to wait in line for just a bunch of green onions. I got all muddled up and an attendant had to come to rescue me. Here again, I noticed there were fewer check-out counters with real persons serving; another case of a business saving money at the expense of customers’ time and grief.
Is all this automation a way to make humans redundant? Thanks to mechanization farmers who constitute 1.7 per cent of population are now producing more food than the time when farmers numbered multiple times more. More is on the way: driverless cars, parcel delivery by drones, automated factories, self-directed vacuum cleaners. During the Cold War, there were rumours about the development of a neutron bomb. Its idea was a weapon that kills humans without damaging physical assets: an absolute abomination.
I don’t think Mr. Trump is right to blame trade treaties for unemployment. It is automation, computerization, mechanization, robotics that are making people lose jobs. But humans are not disappearing; if anything, we will be more in number. In these circumstances, there has to be a radical paradigm shift with our idea of who we are.
We have to move away from the notion of “we are what we do.” We have to accept ourselves as what we are regardless of what we do. I am a human being whatever I’m doing. When I introduce myself as a retired person, I feel obliged to find a way to justify my existence by describing how I spend my time. If I say, “Actually I do nothing,” people think I am being funny. So I say something like, “I write.” But I should not have to say what I do to win the right to occupy space and eat food. “I don’t apologize,” or something like that, said John Wayne. I have a right to live and be loved by simply being alive and cranky.
Tadashi (Tad) Mitsui