Response to Jeremy Rifkin's 1996
The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force
and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era.


Kerry Betsold   University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth
"Welcome to Audix, please enter extension and pound sign." "You've got
mail!" "This is a test of the emergency broadcast system." All of these 
are common automated responses we have grown accustomed to, even attached 
to. I realized more and more reading Rifkin's book just how dependent on
technology we've become. While this doesn't seem like a bad thing as I 
sit here typing my paper, talking to a friend on AOL Instant Messenger, 
and listening to some music, I know that my future is uncertain. I'm an 
English major by choice, and I like it. I don't know where I'll be once 
I graduate; I try not to think about it most of the time. But one thing 
I do know is that there will always be a demand for people who can think 
critically, express themselves on paper (or computer as the case may be), 
and can communicate with people. These are the skills I'm hoping to gain 
with my degree, not technical skills involved in majors like engineering, 
computer science, and biology.

Rifkin paints a bleak picture as he leads from the dawn of the mass
production market to where we'll be going tomorrow. The introduction of 
the assembly line in the early twentieth century brought a boom in 
production and our economy unlike anything we've seen before. Then in 
1941, the first computer was invented. From then on, our commercial 
economy has been more and more automated. From the middle of the 
twentieth century to today, blue-collar workers have been replaced by 
machines at an astounding rate. Rifkin shows examples of AT&T replacing 
operators with machines, and a lot of factories have been run solely on 
machines for quite some time. As Rifkin said, computers don't need sleep, 
they don't eat, they don't complain about work conditions, and they don't 
complain about wage increases.  What we're moving into today is a new 
high-tech world. The consequences of this are still unsure. Some things 
that Rifkin highlights are an increase in violence, increase in daily 
stress, and the most obvious widening of the gap between rich and poor. 
One can only imagine what our world will be like in ten or twenty years.

While reading Rifkin, I found myself having conversations with people 
about these issues. Just the other night Sarah, my roommate, and I had 
a discussion about this, about our economy, about the staggering numbers 
Sarah came up with that show how much money the top ten percent of our 
population controls. And while for a minute I thought it was kind of odd 
that we were having this discussion, I realized that this is what we're 
supposed to be doing. Rifkin probably wrote this book for us to educate 
ourselves and open our eyes. After talking, we all felt depressed, most 
of us being liberal arts or fine arts majors. But it did make us think.

While looking for summer jobs, I have found a lot of web material that 
makes me feel a little better about my decision to change my major, the 
various fields that English majors get into, and how I can do almost 
anything I want from here. After reading The End of Work, I couldn't 
help but feel a little depressed but also a little more aware of what 
is going on in our world. I have no doubt that I'll be fine. The world 
will not eat me alive; I won't let it. And in twenty years, I think that 
no matter where I am or where the world is, most of us will be all right.