Cyberclass Consciousness
August 7, 2003 7:28 PM   Subscribe

10% of American tech sector jobs will move offshore by the end of the year. Cyber-Marx (1999):
"... globalisation has given some knowledge workers, largely male, largely white, associated with high tech, finance, communication and information an exceptional importance. Concentrated in the technopoles that form the hubs of "global webs," these constitute a layer of privileged labour on whose loyalty capital can largely rely. But analysis that sees "symbolic analysts" as the crucial actors in globalisation does not grasp the speed with which capital turfs yuppies from the lifeboat when cheaper replacements can be found. Even symbolic analysts feel the blast of globalisation, as North American computer programmers are undercut by Lithuanian or Indian competition, and architects, engineers and professors discover that those who can telecommute can always be teleterminated by cheaper services uploaded from anywhere on the planet.
True? What effect will this trend have on the digerati as a class, do you think?
posted by hairyeyeball (30 comments total)
 
i think the boom is ending. sell.
posted by quonsar at 7:32 PM on August 7, 2003


Welcome back, union.
posted by tgrundke at 7:39 PM on August 7, 2003


Call me kkkrazy but unlike European farmers who demand subsides, the RIAA or solicitors or accountants who demand giant barriers to entry, I think a lot of our fellow programmers are wise enough to the ways of the world and may just go “Fair enough , if you guys can do it just as well for the same money, wahey for the efficient allocation of resources! ”. Why begrudge others success? Anyone got a room to share in Bangalore?
posted by Damienmce at 7:48 PM on August 7, 2003


The trend will continue just like we lost textile, metals, everything else. The only difference is, it will happen at hyper-speed. But who cares? That is the beauty of capitalism, creative destruction, out with the old in with the new. Unions will just screw things up stifle innovation and change. Look at the industries traditionally associated with unions and ask yourself honestly if that is what you want for a future digerati class.
posted by stbalbach at 7:48 PM on August 7, 2003


time to do some traveling and learn a new language (oh, shit, we're engineers and therefore incompetent at languages). Oh well, better get a better specialization.
However, in the next several years we're definitly going to see a major shift of trained jobs across the world, but really it's a good thing as it means more people will get better lives (even though it will hurt some in the states) and (to me more importantly) it will mean more countries become interdependent and therefore less willing to become warlike (at least in theory). Who knows, maybe someday we'll all be like the philipines.
posted by NGnerd at 7:50 PM on August 7, 2003


That said once all the cool jobs are gone, whats left for us in the west to do? Just but stuff and get fat? Someone get me an economist!
posted by Damienmce at 7:55 PM on August 7, 2003


Who knows, maybe someday we'll all be like the Philippines.

What? So, we have armed revolutionaries, child labor and the random coups from the kids at West Point, to look forward to? Well, that'll be fun.

Someone get me an economist!

Ask, and ye shall receive.
posted by dejah420 at 8:00 PM on August 7, 2003


architects, engineers and professors discover that those who can telecommute can always be teleterminated by cheaper services uploaded from anywhere on the planet

Absolutely true, and this is only going to get highlighted. Any kind of telecommutable job is now going to see worldwide labor pool competition.

The upside is that we might see an increase in standards of living in other countries. The bad news is that India or China alone could absorb the U.S. labor market several times over, so it will be a while before things stop sinking here.
posted by namespan at 8:00 PM on August 7, 2003


God damn I hate that word digerati. Almost as much as "creamer."
posted by yalestar at 8:06 PM on August 7, 2003


What effect will this trend have on the digerati as a class, do you think?

One economist view is that high tech jobs will move to smaller companies. 10 -100 employees, making specialty software.

This seems true for a variety of industries over the past 100 years. At least from the manufacturing view. Look at motorcycles. Or orange juice.
posted by the fire you left me at 8:09 PM on August 7, 2003


I, for one, welcome our new largely male, largely white, digerati underclass.
posted by SPrintF at 8:48 PM on August 7, 2003


Disappearance of the US middle class.

US assumes income distribution profile of Sierra Leone.

Emergence of paramilitary death squads.

US military becomes de-facto instrument of socialist government policy, as a mass employment agency.

Psychoactive drugs convince Americans all is well.
posted by troutfishing at 8:57 PM on August 7, 2003


Have faith; the market will look after you.
posted by larry_darrell at 9:14 PM on August 7, 2003


that greeter job at the Wal-Mart just keeps lookin better and better.
posted by photoslob at 9:17 PM on August 7, 2003


I think a lot of our fellow programmers are wise enough to the ways of the world and may just go “Fair enough, if you guys can do it just as well for the same money, wahey for the efficient allocation of resources!”

You know, it's kind of funny. I know a fair number of programmers, some unemployed and some employed, and you're right -- most of them are going "this sucks for me, but I am not the center of the universe. Obviously, the solution is to make myself worth the extra money." And the best ones are doing just that. They're learning new languages and frameworks, getting involved in open-source projects, and boning up on real computer science stuff (most programming is not really computer science). Not a one of the programmers I know are calling for unionization or trade barriers or anything of the sort. Many are calling for Bush to get serious about the economy, but I think that sentiment is widespread these days.

I must say, when I was first getting into computers as a teenager, it never crossed anyone's mind that twenty years later we'd see this happening.
posted by kindall at 9:34 PM on August 7, 2003


Tell me more about these psychoactive drugs.
posted by majcher at 10:16 PM on August 7, 2003


I still have my programming job and I'm in a small company so I don't feel at risk yet (knock on wood) ..

But I don't see this as a good thing. I have nothing against the Indians who want to fill these roles; I have everything against the greedy executives who are willing to sell their american employees out in order to sqeeze a few more dollars out of an already profitable company. Their vision is amazingly short-sighted.

I do think these companies should be penalized. Perhaps not with direct trade barriers but with increased taxes and fewer tax loopholes.

And this trend is going to have some interesting consequences. In the short term, the technical-minded set will reduce their spending. Traditionally, this class of people have been high spenders, especially likely to give their money to tech companies in order to get the latest bit of software or the newest gadget. What will happen to this industry over the long term, once the individual's spending is greatly reduced or curtailed? It's not as if the Indians will be making enough to pick up the slack.

And then what about the long-long term trends? With CompSci being perceived as a dying field, fewer and fewer students will pursue it. Will this cause the US to lose its tech edge and competitiveness?

And the nations we're outsourcing to may not always remain friendly. What happens to our country when our necessary resources are in the hands of someone who is rather unfriendly? Or in a country which is suddenly experiencing a bit of instability and chaos?
posted by pandaharma at 10:52 PM on August 7, 2003


Having just returned from a celebration of the new contract I just signed to sell yet more software in the US of A, I am not deeply concerned. Technical skills whether manual or mental can be taught in 6 to 24 months and therefore their value declines in inverse proportion to Moore’s law. Just as steel production moved offshore so is code writing.

Creativity and people skills still demand money. A good broad liberal education with a working knowledge of popular consumables, (software, pharmaceuticals, or entertainment) will still give one (white, male or otherwise) a mid six-figure income.

And
pandaharma
"And the nations we're outsourcing to may not always remain friendly. What happens to our country when our necessary resources are in the hands of someone who is rather unfriendly? Or in a country which is suddenly experiencing a bit of instability and chaos?"


Very good question. Are we at risk?
posted by arse_hat at 11:06 PM on August 7, 2003


With regards the instability/chaos theory this can easily be offset by spreading things around, India, China, Eastern Europe etc. Keep those eggs in many baskets.
posted by zeoslap at 11:25 PM on August 7, 2003


I personally think we are at risk.

Think about the worst-case scenarios: The Pak-India conflict gets extra crispy and New Dehli becomes a beautiful glass tabletop. Now Bank of America and American Express have absolutely no back office anymore and no means for quickly restoring that functionality.

China decides today is a nice day for taking a lesiurely cruise across the Taiwan Strait and allows their marines to take the waters in the warm springs near Taipei. The US is forced to do something to prevent this new influx of armed Chinese tourists. What happens to Microsoft's shiny new factory on the outskirts of Shanghai when the US and China are involved in a brutal naval clash?

And then there's the more subtle problem of what happens when the rest of the world realizes the US has become a paunchy, balding middle manager who doesn't actually do any real work and doesn't produce anything of value beyond some undefined "services".

Short term profit is a decent thing for shareholders but what does it mean for the country when we lose, en masse, the skills and capacity to produce anything worthwhile?
posted by pandaharma at 1:01 AM on August 8, 2003


A good broad liberal education with a working knowledge of popular consumables, (software, pharmaceuticals, or entertainment) will still give one (white, male or otherwise) a mid six-figure income.

Mid six-figure income? That would be $500,000 year. Could you be more specific on how to get one of these jobs? I want one, please.

This is also the first time I've heard Prozac and Viagra refered to as "popular consumables". Very nice.
posted by sic at 1:53 AM on August 8, 2003


This is good news for me though...
posted by PenDevil at 2:01 AM on August 8, 2003


The trend will continue just like we lost textile, metals, everything else. The only difference is, it will happen at hyper-speed. But who cares? That is the beauty of capitalism, creative destruction, out with the old in with the new. Unions will just screw things up stifle innovation and change. Look at the industries traditionally associated with unions and ask yourself honestly if that is what you want for a future digerati class.

Huh? There's no way the tech sector has union organization anywhere near the level that industrial manufacturing has and yet you're pointing out all the jobs are still leaving. It seems to me you've just argued that unions are irrelevant to the hazards of globalization despite your rabid venting about how they've ruined the planet somehow.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:26 AM on August 8, 2003


China invading Taiwan is good copy, but it's unlikely to happen. The Chinese transportation infrastructure is such that America is able to ship divisions of marines there in the time it'd take China to transport an attack force across.

More on topic, frankly, I find the use of nationalism to whip up proto-socialist leanings to be disgusting. "Those darkies across the water are going to steal your jobs unless you unionise!" just doesn't sit well with me.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 6:21 AM on August 8, 2003


I've worked at a company that subcontracted several projects out to Indian consultants. We experienced mixed results. When it works well, it is nearly as effective as having local developers. When there is a problem, it is a huge problem, since the developers are 11.5 timezones and a 30-hour commute away. What it boils down to is time and money. There are natural barriers to using Indian developers arising from time, space and culture. If the reduction in time/cost of project development is sufficient to overcome this barrier, then it may make sense to use these resources. From my experience, it sometimes is. But it is a gamble. Businesses are often conservative, preferring a sure thing that has a known but higher cost over an uncertain thing that may or may not lower their cost in time/money.
posted by gregor-e at 7:10 AM on August 8, 2003


waheeee. while i'm not in india, i am about to start work for a n. american organzn at reduced rates (ie good local pay) here in s. america. i also considered another job with a uk company, where they were paying low uk rates, which was enough for me to live in comparative luxury here and fly across to the uk 8 times a year for meetings.

thank you, stinky-rich gringos! :o)
posted by andrew cooke at 7:18 AM on August 8, 2003


We should also keep Moore's law in mind. Computers double in speed and complexity roughly every 18 months. Nature abhors a vacuum, and we somehow feel the need to fill these larger and faster computers with correspondingly larger and more complex software. Unfortunately, software development productivity hasn't kept pace with hardware complexity. It certainly hasn't been doubling every 18 months. This indicates that the demand for software developers is increasing at an exponential rate. Though some of this increased demand will be satisfied for a while by offshore developers, the ever-increasing need for more complexity in software will slurp up whatever software development talent we can find, then ask for more. Until we succeed in projecting the intelligence necessary to develop software into software itself and write ourselves out of a job, we're going to need all the software developers we can find (or afford...).
posted by gregor-e at 7:22 AM on August 8, 2003


in software will slurp up whatever software development talent we can find, then ask for more

Sorry, this sounds like an advertisement for those schools where you can get an associate's degree "in one of the following exciting fields: medical assistance, refridgerator repair, and web design!" The fact is, there are hundreds of laid-off programmers right now sitting on their asses without jobs.

Your analogy of Moore's Law somehow applying to the labor market is somehow fundamentally flawed. It may have something to do with demand for software having a weak coorelation to processor speeds. It's not like it was in the 80's, where with every new increase in speed, a new field could be openned up to computers. There comes a point in instructions/second where it doesn't matter whether you've got a 3ghz. P4 or a 1.2ghz. P3, when all you're doing is word processing.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:06 AM on August 8, 2003


As long as there are entrepreneurs in the states who have a vague idea of the software they want to see there will be software professionals. This is because someone who doesn't know software CANNOT define the requirements necessary for their product without the help of a third party. Then in many cases where a specification is not complete or it's a prototype, products need to be retooled. Simply it is not feasible nor smart to outsource when you are doing a small project or you're not actually sure what you are making. As long as we have people who want software made but aren't very sure of it we'll at least have people who will have to specify and design that software before it gets outsourced and implemented.
posted by abez at 9:58 AM on August 8, 2003


Anyone who thought the middle class in this country would continue to rise is in for a shock. If anything, the next 100 years will be about bringing the impoverished 3rd world out of its torpor, to the benefit of the Western upper class.

All y'all middle class americans have outlived your usefulness.
posted by scarabic at 10:52 AM on August 8, 2003


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