"Bringing the Future to Your Industry"

Monthly Labor Review, Feb 1998 v121 n2 p71(1)

Bold New World: The Essential Road Map to the Twenty-First Century. (article title: A new adventure)_(book reviews) Richard M. Devens Jr..

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1998 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

By William Knoke. New York,NY, Kodansha America, Inc., 1996. 354 pp. Index.

We need a new phrase--I propose "apocalyptic optimist"--to describe William Knoke. He truly believes that the technical miracles promised in the high-technology brochures and webzines will come true. But at the same time, he sees that implies a painful reappraisal of the way we think about place, time, space, organizations, relationships, government, religion, war, and, of most interest here, work.

In Knoke's twenty-first century, the technical problems of production and distribution of goods are annihilated. The acceleration of technology leads to a Placeless Society in which "distance ceases to exist" and ushers in an Age of Everything-Everywhere during which "all the cards of power and wealth, of family and self, are being reshuffled and dealt anew." The brief futuristic vignettes that lead off each chapter often read like the series of advertisements for a major groupware vendor in which substantial competitive problems are solved and commercial catastrophes averted at the click of a few mice. I must admit these technologically optimistic assumptions are at least plausible. I do, however, suspect that Knoke overestimates the current use of these tools in the world beyond his own high-end, high-tech segment--the jacket notes describe him as founder of an investment banking firm specializing in mergers and acquisitions in the field of cutting-edge technologies.

Once Knoke sets his optimistic stage in terms of technological environment, he takes one of the most thoughtful looks I have read at what impact that environment will have. The impacts of a placeless society on labor are especially profound. In such a technologically driven society, not even the renowned information worker will be safe. Computers, automation, and intelligent systems, according to Knoke, are advancing so quickly that even in the professions and management, general practitioners and mid-level functionaries will join blue-collar workers and clerks among the displaced in increasing numbers. And, indeed, the 1995 BLS displaced worker survey found that such white-collar workers made up a larger than usual share of the displaced.

What, then, are the occupations that will do better? First, those who use and develop technology--from software developers to industrial designers to operations researchers. Second, occupations that to fundamental demographic shifts--cooks for the two-worker family, fertility doctors for the growing number of late-marriage household formations, and health care therapists for an aging population of weekend athletes. And third, those who help organizations adapt to the new rules--management consultants, environmental engineers, investment bankers, and bankruptcy lawyers.

Bold New World encompasses far more than jobs and careers. Readers may find his discussions of social, political, and technological trends to be useful and interesting supplements to his insights for the future of economics and labor relations.


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