I'm sure I'm not the first person to ask this, but you get to thinking, you know. The Missus and The Wee One were away for a weekend up in Des Moines, so it was just me and older two kiddos, hanging out at the mall and as I'm walking down the long spine of the mall where the carousel is along with the other little rides are they wanted to play on when it hit me: is my generation going to be the last generation hang out at the mall?
I mean, malls are nothing particularly special- I'm not sure I'm going to be sorry to see them go, to be honest. They were sort of massive temples of consumerism that seemed to be somewhat struggling with the economic realities of today. They were undoubtedly very cool in the 1980s and when I was growing up- but that was when we had arcades in the mall. That was when you had stores like Sam Goody and B. Dalton and Waldenbooks. That was when Best Buy still sold CDs- which now seem to be heading the way of vinyl.
It's an odd moment to be living in. Everything seems to be dying, but dying isn't quite the right word for it. There's no decay. There's no rigor mortis. There's no dusty and crumbling empty corners. There could be, but so far there's not. And I think that's kind of the tipping point where we're at, you know. Do we crumble to dust or change into something else? And what are we evolving into?
We're at a tipping point and no one knows what's going to happen next. We have a President who seems to have taken Palmerston's old dictum of 'nations don't have permanent friends, only permanent interests' to heart on the world stage. I wouldn't mind so much if he didn't seem to be hell bent on undermining the system of alliances and international institutions that were the bedrock of the international order of the last century. That system may not have prevented every war, but it sure as hell didn't lose the peace. Do we really want to toss it aside so cavalierly?
It's the same thing on trade. Could we get better trade deals? Probably. I have no objection to that in principle, but in practice you're playing Russian roulette with a gun that may well be fully loaded. If you're in the widget making business, you can make different widgets if you get entangled in a tariff taboo- it's a lot harder for farmers to change crops when the soybeans are already in the damn ground. (And hey- the powers that be are apparently waking up to that reality as well.)
I listened to a podcast with a man by the name of Andrew Yang who's already running for President under the banner of implementing universal basic income. (BTW: Mr. Yang joins Mr. Delaney on my shitlist. It's too damn early to be starting these shenanigans, fellas. I haven't recovered from the last election year.) Mr. Yang made a persuasive if slightly apocalyptic case that automation is coming, probably in the next ten or twelve years and it's going to wipe out a lot of jobs. You may have all the qualifications in the world to do a job that's about to be rendered obsolete by a computer and then what are we going to do? (Apparently give everyone a thousand bucks a year?)*
But here's the thing: I'm not convinced it's a decade away. I read articles like this and I'm not convinced either. I don't think whole industries will disappear overnight. There's too much blowback and too much money at stake for that. It's the reason that I've worked in higher education for nearly a decade now and a decade ago they were predicting it was all going to go to hell and blow up and a decade later, higher education is still here. It's been squeezed, no doubt- but it's still here. And while my faith in the mandarins who watch over the various satrapys of higher education is somewhat limited, pressure can do amazing. When applied to lumps of coal in just the right amount, it's been known to produce diamonds.
I'm watching a documentary on The Vietnam War right now (I know, cheerful happy and fun stuff, right?) And I'm sure it seemed to that generation that the world was coming apart at the seams and everything was going to hell in a handbasket. I'm sure every generation feels like this at some point in their lives, so I can't discount the possibility that I'm just feeling what everything else is feeling.
But maybe I'm not. Maybe we're living balanced on a tipping point unlike any in our history and nobody knows what could happen next.
Or maybe it's just Tuesday.
*Never mind automation- though I do think it's coming in some form another. 3D printing is far more interesting, to me. Imagine the possibilities if you can make everything you want.