Seth Godin says that we have entered the “forever recession”, and the end of repetitive factory (and desk) jobs for humans. I agree. He’s right, and we’ll have to think extra hard in order to to adjust our society.
When it comes to all those industrial jobs, you have to realize that the "great pay" for some of the jobs that have been lost was the result of artificial intervention via labor laws. In a truly free market, we wouldn't have seen those jobs just go "poof" and disappear. Instead, we would have seen the hourly wage for manual labor gradually decrease, rather than increase. Eventually, people would just stop taking the jobs and they would disappear via attrition rather than discrete job cuts. Society has made value curve of labor move in the opposite direction from the value curve of technology, and we are now starting to see what happens when those lines cross.
I’m not saying those labor laws were a bad idea. Societal stability is dependent on maintaining a standard-of-living “floor” that affords a certain level of comfort and happiness. What I am saying (and what Seth is saying) is that, as a group, we are advancing ourselves out of our own usefulness.
I discussed this topic in a previous post, “Who are the blacksmiths of today”. Some people will be more capable of adapting to new jobs than others, but we are all in the same boat. At the end of the day there will be systems and technologies to replace a vast array of what we currently need humans to do. I know it seems like it took forever (and a fortune) to get IBM’s Watson, but Watson-like innovations will come faster and cheaper. After all, technology accelerates exponentially, while humans themselves sit largely unchanged from decade to decade.
We will have to evolve our society in more and more significant ways if we want to avoid disaster and civil unrest (just look at what’s happened in France and England lately). On the bright side, solving such a big problem will take a lot of thinking, so at least we'll get a few new jobs out of it!