Adapt or perish

We are caught in a technological tidal wave that is revolutionizing our way of life and our consumer habits. What to do? Go with the flow.

Here’s some news that might frighten the thousands of Canadians who work in the aerospace industry: Boeing is investigating 3D printing technology, and this spring it applied for a patent on a printing process for some of its aircraft parts. The new process will allow the company to save time, reduce costs and avoid having to carry and store large inventories. According to GeekWire magazine, the plane manufacturer has already printed about 300 3D plastic parts for its planes. Three-dimensional printing can be used with different types of materials, including metal alloys.

Quebec-based aerospace manufacturers Bombardier Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney Canada and Bell Helicopter Textron are also looking into this revolutionary technology, which involves a machine laying down successive layers of material until a final and very real object is produced. Other applications for the technology can be applied to manufacture various types of consumer goods, such as automobiles, apparel, medical devices and even houses.

The threat to manufacturing jobs is no longer Mexico or low-wage workers — it’s technology!

I didn’t learn about this by reading a newspaper article written by a journalist. I read about it on my tablet, in a blog entry posted by a technology expert, who writes about 3D printing, among other things. As for me, I wrote this column on my smartphone in the waiting room at my optometrist’s clinic in Montreal.

Tomorrow, I will take the train to work. It’s a one-hour commute and because I don’t like reading on the train, I will use a Google app to rent a movie or a television program on my telephone. And, when the movie is over, I won’t have to return it to the video store. By the way, do such places still exist?

If I wanted to embellish my story, I would tell you that I will catch a ride home tonight through Uber, a mobile app (available in different cities around the world) that pairs passengers with drivers, much to the chagrin of taxi drivers. Later in the evening I will log on to my computer and write the next bestseller — the Kindle version, of course, which will allow me to sell my book online directly to readers without having to go through a publisher, and will let me earn an even larger share of the royalties to boot.

We are caught in a technological tidal wave that is revolutionizing our way of life and our consumer habits. Many industries and workers are facing greater competition than ever — competition they did not see coming and which is directly threatening their jobs.

Taxi drivers in Edmonton, Montreal and London, England, are protesting in the streets against Uber’s arrival in the marketplace. The music and publishing industries are demanding new laws to curb rising sales of downloadable music and digital books. How many more industries will beg politicians to come to their assistance in the years ahead?

Of course, we should empathize with workers who are directly affected. But we also have to accept that “creative destruction” is the very process by which our economy renews itself — by offering more and raising our standard of living. Century after century, technology has disrupted our habits, forcing thousands of workers to retrain for other jobs, most often for the better.

Columnists such as myself are also caught in the crossfire, for we now have to fight for your attention against the horde of bloggers who have come out of the woodwork. Wish me luck!