Years after the booming mills of Manchester wrecked the age-old spinning traditions of India, leaving thousands unemployed, the technology-labour problem still plagues us. To make matters worse, the world's population has only increased dramatically since the 1800s.
The situation modern man has to contend with is finding the point of balance between technological solutions and human needs. Technology, in our time, becomes more and more effective and productive with every passing day. This efficiency is a double-edged sword as it improves productivity but makes people redundant. Suspended on a flimsy string are the teeming hordes of our nation, ridden with anxiety, fear, and the apprehension of becoming unemployed in the face of ultra-efficacious machines. After all, machines have no cares, worries, or feelings. They don't have families or health problems. Once they wear away, they are trashed and replaced.
Trapped between ever smaller hi-tech machinery and our ever-growing mammoth population, developing nations like India find themselves in a dilemma. On the one hand, we have new assembly plants where cars are produced increasingly mechanically with few human hands at work. This increases income inequality and creates a mass of virtually unemployable people who find themselves spilling over onto our streets with red banners in their hands, screaming slogans, cursing the establishment and asking for jobs.
In an effort to bolster its slumping economy and to compete in international markets, there is an increasing need for more mechanisation in India. Then again, our phenomenal unemployed population cannot be ignored. We urgently need to draw the line between capital-intensive and labor-intensive industries.
Besides, India has always had a strong tradition in the arts. And traditionally, almost all work and crafts were done by hand, resulting in a highly skilled labour force developing in every field. For instance, it is easy to replace our potters with mechanised units, but then where do all the potters go? They are an integral part of our society and have occupied their own niche in society for years. Thus, we see that mechanisation leads to a breakdown of society through social disruption and the dissolution of traditional ways of life.
In this context, it is interesting to note that Mahatma Gandhi had anticipated these conflicts. In an article published in the Harijan (May 16th 1936), he wrote: "Production by the labour of millions of hands is constructive and conducive to the common good. Mass production through power-driven machinery, even when state-owned, will be of no avail."
Thus, in Mahatma Gandhi's view, the solution lies in creating more jobs at the grassroots. Undoubtedly, this is of critical importance in our country in this day and age. Artificial Intelligence and automation will forever be superior to human intelligence and labour in every aspect. However, our advanced communication skills and our ability to be empathic are essential attributes that I do not believe that AI can ever replicate, therefore giving us the coign of vantage... at least for now.
Yet, in our endeavour to provide employment, must we let our technological standards plummet? In an age where computers are a means of life, to ignore technological development at any cost would undeniably be a step in the wrong direction. However, when one considers these issues, it appears that the tonnes of obsolete technology still in use across our country are more of a boon than a curse; they employ millions of bread earners who provide the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter for their numerous dependents. In our rushed pursuit to modernise, there is a real danger that we may push the millions over the brink...