A recent BBC website article pointed out that soon over 5 billion people worldwide will be using some sort of mobile device. It struck me that mobile devices implies mobile people—which I am not. I do not have a cell phone because most of the day I am only steps away from my landline. At other times, messages will be recorded by my answering machine, and I will hear them probably within an hour, soon enough for me.
I have no need to stand in our mall bellowing into a cell phone, “I’m in front of Radio Shack—where are you?” I am either alone or we have already agreed on a place to meet. I don’t have to ask, “I’m in the Acme. What brand of coffee do you want?” I already know what is wanted. That’s why I am there, for heaven’s sakes. (And, like a typical Philadelphian, I pronounce it AK-a-me.)
But I digress. The point of the article was the effect of this worldwide growth is to create a global, competitive workforce that results in a “hollow” economy, one without a middle class. We are left with the lower end of unemployed and the higher end of skilled, global workers, with not much in between.
Despite what we are hearing, this is not a political problem or even one that government can fix.
The prevalence of mobile devices opens the world to everyone, allowing people everywhere to download information, access knowledge and learn from each other. A motivated few act on this opportunity and migrate to vibrant cities to join global companies. Members of this vast global talent pool increasingly compete with each other, continuously upping the stakes everywhere for what it takes to succeed.
As the virtual market transcends national economies, an individual’s nationality has less affect on their ability to find work. Simply being an American is no longer an advantage. A young person from an Indian village can have many of the same work experiences as her contemporary in downtown New York.
This will impact all of us in three ways, the author states,—the hollowing out of work, the globalization of virtual work, and the rise of the transnational worker free to migrate to anywhere in the world.
The winners will be the transnationals, able to speak more than one language and able to adapt to cross-cultural life. These people once came only from the developed West. Now, they are emerging from many countries around the world, places that once produced only chai-wallahs.
We snicker when we hear, “Hello. My name is Jason. How can I help you today?” in a thick Bengali accent. But Jason is the future. Your grandchildren playing computer games on the couch are not.