In 1779, a man started a revolution when he protested against a changing society by smashing what he saw as the cause of his future impoverishment - a type of mechanical knitting machine. His name was Ned Ludd and the term for the anti-Industrial Revolution movement named after him, Luddism, is now used to denigrate anyone seen to be opposing progress.
The technological revolution that we are currently undergoing is causing a similar change to the make-up of our society as that caused by mechanisation in the 19th century. Rohan Silva, a former advisor to No10, argued in a compelling piece for Newsnight that we can expect to see "middle class" jobs destroyed by technology, leaving us with a two-tier system of top creative roles – people designing and driving the use of tech – and service roles that cater to those in the creative ones.
The relationship between technology and creativity is a complex and changing one. Outside of technological areas, those working with computers are seen to be mechanistic operators of machinery, but the truth is that human roles in this industry are quite the opposite. The type of work undertaken by people is becoming more and more creative, as this is the one area in which computers cannot compete.
Despite the fears of Ludd and his followers, the Industrial Revolution led to an increase in living standards and opportunities for everyone in the Western world. The ability to use and utilise machines meant that each hour of a person’s work was worth more to society and (eventually) to themselves.
It is a realistic prospect that, as technology destroys the "middle class" jobs, those it creates in their place are more flexible, more creative and more empowering. The roles tipped for destruction by Silva – law, medicine and accounting – have never been renowned for personal expression and freedom. On the contrary, the new roles in coding, design and product development are often paragons of modern management practice. The focus on tangible outputs over counting "inputs" (such as working hours) has led to an unprecedented rise in flexible and remote working.
This change in working practice has a social benefit. For those with caring duties, particularly mothers who would have faced a decision over whether to leave the marketplace or engage in a difficult juggling act, it means they can bring in an income, continue to engage in the workplace and also dedicate the time they need to raising their children.
But the real win is for creativity. Many workers with well-paid, flexible jobs can now afford to reach a semi-professional level in the artistic pursuits (music, acting, visual arts) where technology has decimated incomes. Society is changing, and we are becoming more creative.
Zoe Cunningham is the managing director at Softwire
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