WALLY’S WORLD: Digital age will alter the way we all live

By Wally DuChateau

Last week I offered some random muddleheaded thoughts on the digital revolution that’s engulfing us. I suggested the microchip has sparked an upheaval that will be as great as that caused by the Industrial Revolution(1850-1900). Bill Gates and his associates and followers are dramatically and profoundly changing the American culture – socially, economically and psychologically – and it’s happening much faster than many of us expected.

Take, for example, education. It’s now possible to get bachelor’s and a master’s degrees entirely on the Internet, without setting foot on a college campus. And just as you can earn these university degrees online, it is possible to earn a high school diploma as well. In some circles this is happening already. It’s surely true that more and more children are being homeschooled with “Baby Einstein” disks, TV shows like “Sesame Street” and diligent parents.

If such trends continue, public education as we know it today will be drastically altered. What effects this will have on our kids’ socialization is anybody’s guess. Can you imagine a college degree that doesn’t include a drunken spring break in Cancun? Or a high school diploma without a Homecoming dance or a lunchroom food fight?

How important education will be in the future job market isn’t clear because the nature of work is changing. People no longer spend years with the same employer or spend a lifetime in a specific career. Instead, workers explore several different trades and occupations in many locations and with many companies. There is more part-time employment and some people may hold two or three part-time jobs simultaneously. Where someone works will become increasingly vague, changing in a haphazard fashion. Many more people will work at home, communicating entirely on the Internet with a central “office” that may not even have a permanent physical location.

The American economy will no longer be the envy of the world, nor will Wall Street be the world’s economic center. I’m not sure any place will be, though the economies of South America and Asia will grow much faster than ours.

Money will become ever more abstract. Instead of making payments and other financial transactions with a check, plastic or a tangible wad of bills in your pocket, a cell phone will instantaneously change figures and bits and blips in hyperspace. Our last president may have stumbled upon an important truth when he predicted America would become an investment and ownership society. Much of our wealth will come not from labor or a clearly defined “job.” In fact, I’d predict that an increasing share of our population won’t even have a clear idea where their hyperspace blips come from or what they amount to.

Questions like “What do you do?” or “How much do you make?” will be more or less irrelevant or meaningless. And this, to borrow Martha Steward’s phrase, will probably be a good thing.