The Aphid on the Machine

While the majority of the columns printed on the New York Times’ op-ed page seem intended to energize the reader by alerting him to some impending social, economic, or political evil shortly to be foisted on the country or the world by the Republican Party or some other sinister force on the right, the contemplated disaster is usually less disturbing than the political and philosophical imagination that conceived it.

A column by Thomas L. Friedman last summer proved the exception to the rule.  In this isolated case, I found myself in agreement with both the author’s prophetic perception of coming reality and the moral context of his response to it, even while his suggested solution left me cold.  The substance of Friedman’s thesis, indeed, has occurred to me repeatedly in the past few years.  It is that the headlong technological revolution that has been transpiring over the past few decades, and that seems now to redouble its momentum every few years, is altering social, educational, and economic institutions and circumstances with a relentless logic and stunning rapidity that makes obsolete all traditional notions of a lifelong career, and the fact itself, impossible.

The current popularity of jobs-retraining programs suggests that the insight is hardly a new or an original one, but Friedman put the matter clearly and forcefully.  It is unrealistic, he argued, for young people contemplating a...

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