Recently, a friend told me about a book she is reading. Apparently, the gist of the book is that technology is changing so rapidly, it is causing stress to most people in our society. She asked me if I see this in my clinical practice. (I would like to outline and expand upon my response in this post.)
I said, “Yes I do, but not like you would think. People are not aware of this stress. Instead, they are blaming other people for their stress.”
The Paradigm Shift as a Source of Stress
Agrarian vs. Technological Societies
I explained that I believe we are in the midst of a paradigm shift. As late as the 1970s, there was a regularly cited statistic of the percentage of Americans involved in the agricultural sector of our economy. That statistic is rarely seen anymore. However, in the 1970s through the 1990s there were many reports of farmers losing their family land to agribusiness. (Clearly, our society was changing very dramatically. The change is still occurring.)
I noted since the Industrial Revolution, we have had an increasingly changing society, and that the pace of change has exponentiated (in apparent agreement with her book). For reference, in 1800 an estimated 83% of the American workforce was employed in the agricultural sector. By 1860, that number was down to 53% (seemingly coinciding with the explosive paradigm shift of the Industrial Revolution). Current estimates place our agrarian workforce (2008 statistic) at 2% of the population. Any change is a source of stress. Such a fundamental shift means a greater source of stress.
During humankind’s long-established agrarian history, the growth of knowledge was slow, and elders held more knowledge. This was because they saw more seasons and acquired more experience and knowledge about crops, soil, and weather, etc. The “technology” was slow to change. Sun, water, and soil remained unchanged. Even plows remained relatively unchanged (perhaps they were no longer pulled by an animal, but now they were pushed by a tractor).
Knowledge vs. Technology
Now, knowledge has to a large measure supplanted muscle and the ‘old’ technology. The relevant forms of knowledge have changed very dramatically recently. Technological changes in the late 20th century have dramatically changed our society. The technology we all take for granted now has changed our day-to-day life. The development of personal computers, more recently the advent of smart phones and the explosion of apps and the app-based economy have had profound impacts. Not only have they changed our society and the economy, but also the knowledge base required to participate. A person born 50 or 70 years ago might have worked on a farm or in a factory. People born 25 or so years ago are much more likely to work for FaceBook, Lyft, Uber or Amazon.
Remember also, there has been a ‘hollowing out’ of the production-based workforce beginning in the 1980s. At that time, corporations increasingly began to move manufacturing jobs to other countries to increase profits. This move left behind a group of ‘stranded’ workers, who may have spent decades working in production. During their lifetime, a factory job meant earning a healthy living, so that was the career plan. That plan is no longer valid. However, it is not easy for a person who is midlife to start over. With a mortgage or children, many adults cannot go back to school and learn a new technology or career. How does a person in this position understand and manage their stress?
Envy and Personification
Often, we see someone with greater opportunity than our self we may feel envious of them. A person in later life might be very envious of a younger person who was born into the digital age and had different opportunities. Both of them may have worked very hard, but the auto mechanic or factory worker was not likely to gain stock options or a very high rate of pay. As society shifts, so do opportunities. Our country is no longer a great place for a career in manufacturing. It is, however, a great place for a career in technology.
For those who had different opportunities, grew up under different circumstances, or in a different time, the outlook might look better or worse.
Personification is the attribution of human form and characteristics to abstract concepts.
The point I was making with my friend is as follows: I think one thing that happens unconsciously is people tend to blame other people rather than abstract concepts such as a changing culture or the point in history. Instead, people find it easier to blame the ‘tech bros’ or ‘those people.’ Unfortunately, our current culture is adding to this problem, rather than looking at the deeper underlying systemic symptoms, pressures and changes. Those are harder to effect, and people seem to have a natural affinity for wanting to blame other people for their problems.
Living through culture shifts can be very stressful and anxiety-producing. The world worked one way at one point in our life, and later it seems to shift. While the shifts might be exciting for some people, who will either benefit or at least not harmed by the change(s), for another the shift can be very problematic. The two different peoples’ reactions can be exactly opposite. The bigger problem is each party can come to see the other as the embodiment, or even the source, of all their problems.