The industrial revolution transformed agriculture from the core business of the human race into just one of many things that we do. The information revolution is doing the same to manufacturing. More and more of the value in the products we purchase isn’t in the raw materials or the assembly; very little of the value that we buy when we purchase a tablet computer was created on the factory floor. The design, the software, the connectivity, the apps constantly grow in importance: metal, plastic and wiring accounts for a smaller and smaller percentage of the value in the stuff that we buy. Design, software and engineering become more important as manufacture slips into a secondary status. (We still need factories, just as we still need farms—but fewer and fewer people will be working in them and less and less of our GDP will be bound up in their products.)
The jobs of the future are going to be about life’s sizzle rather than about life’s steak, and that’s a good thing. We will spend less and less time and effort manufacturing stuff, while more time and resources will go into the production of experiences, the creation of ambience, and the personal services that make life richer, more engaging, more rewarding. As a species, we will be putting more of our time and effort into culture, leisure and the quest for meaning, and less into the grunt work of coaxing potatoes and pig iron out of the earth.
Automation and globalization are contributing to the commoditization of manufactured goods. IT is also making raw materials easier to source and acquire (think of the role of IT in making hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling possible, opening the door to another generation or more of relatively cheap fossil fuels). IT will promote a continuing redesign of manufactured products in ways that reduce the amount of raw materials needed to produce cars, refrigerators and other goods. Food prices have been falling relative to the price of manufactured goods for two hundred years during the industrial revolution; it’s likely that manufactured goods will show the same pattern going forward.
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Summary of Services and James L. Salmon's CV