Software may be “eating the world” as the saying goes. But that tectonic shift may not be a good thing for the U.S. middle class, accelerating its demise and threatening its existence.
Those were some of the eye-opening remarks delivered Monday afternoon by author Geoffrey Moore at the Technology Alliance’s annual State of Technology Luncheon.
“If software is eating hardware, and if services are eating products, the industrial economy is at risk,” said Moore, the well-known speaker and author of Crossing the Chasm.
“The anchor of a liberal democracy is a middle class that believes that their children will have a better life than they do,” he added. “As soon as the middle class does not believe that — where the middle class itself gets hollowed out — the society is at risk.”
Moore then went on to describe the anger now percolating in San Francisco where ordinary citizens have taken to the streets to protest Google buses and other wage disparity issues.
“We can not disenfranchise the non-tech part of our society,” said Moore.
Moore said that some traditional in-house jobs are getting “dragged back to the guilds” — meaning the loss of more jobs.
“Think about what is happening to the middle class work force? At the margin, the jobs are either going up or down. Now, it is a marginal shift, but it is a worrisome shift, and it is one that scares the middle class deeply. As a result, you can’t just say: ‘It will work out.’”
The tech industry needs to ponder job creation not just for the elite — the data scientists and software engineers pulling down $150,000 per year — but for the entire middle class.
So, what can folks do about it?
Moore suggests a few things.
“The first thing you do is say: ‘Hang on, I am losing a bunch of these jobs, but surely I must be gaining some more? Where are the old jobs and new jobs? If you look at the new jobs, there’s a lot of successful stuff on the horizon.”
Moore specifically pointed to sales and marketing, which in the past was a profession that may not have been the most desirable or sought after.
“The cool thing about this new society — this service society — everything needs to be sold,” he said. “And you can sell it digitally, and you can sell with integrity, and sell with enthusiasm and you can have fun.” Other areas that will grow include community and content management, as well as logistics management. Communities need to be managed, and products and services need to be properly moved from one point to another.
“These are great middle class jobs that people can retrain to get,” he said.
Moore took a different approach with his next idea, pointing out the importance of what he called the “exchange economy,” citing examples such as eBay, Etsy, Airbnb and Uber. Moore said these types of exchanges are only going to proliferate, and people just need to “deal with it.”
But deal with it doesn’t mean simply suck it up, he said. Instead, it means figuring out the best path forward. It also means helping people figure out how to create these types of businesses, capitalizing on the trends that are coming down the path.
Moore proposes that families need to re-think their two incomes, with one spouse holding a more traditional job with benefits and another setting up a home-based business. The latter allows people to take control of their own life and become their own boss.
“It’s a community-based value proposition. It is powerful. We are mammals. We do like to interact with one another, and we do want to support our neighbors. The people we meet at the school. The people we meet at church, or wherever it may be,” said Moore, adding that these types of entrepreneurs don’t need to go national or international, instead simply owning a “micro niche market” in their own community.
“I think this is a cool idea. I don’t know how big of an idea it is. I do think the younger you are, the more likely you are to try this,” he said.