Thomas Sherman has a three posts (1, 2, 3) up on the topic of how participation by the masses in online systems is mostly destroying old mechanisms such as newspapers without replacing them with new mechanisms. (See here for an analysis of this phenomenon for youtube, twitter, facebook, etc.) He also argues that mass participation is bendinging online systems (facebook, youtube) to mass tastes. There's a lot to think about here, including the impact of the long tail. But the most interesting paragraph to me is:
"Historically, technology has come with utopian promises of change that it has failed to deliver in the hoped for or predicted way. Industrialization and automation were supposed to create abundance and leisure but today some of our greatest social challenges involve scarcity. Our personal lives are marked by over-work, "time famine" and sleep deprivation. In America, many people working full-time or multiple jobs are unable to provide for their family's basic needs."
This is an extraordinarily important point. How, in a culture that distributes wealth based on contribution (free market) do you handle the fact that technology continues to enable fewer and fewer people to produce more goods than everyone can consume? The corrollary of this proposition can appear to be that a growing percentage of folks may not have the capacity to contribute sufficiently to "earn" adequate resources for a good life, but there's a fallacy in that apparent corrollary which I will get to below. What to do?
Some will argue that the government should take care of this through single-payer health care, "livable wage" laws, government-owned or mandated public housing, "free" public education, restrictions on layoffs or plant closings, mandated pension systems, etc. However, there are economic counter-arguments to each of these suggestions, and the real-life experience with them has often been disappointing. Without trying to re-hash the economic and performance arguments in this area, I would suggest a basis from positive psychology for thinking about this issue: Self-Determination Theory (SDT).
SDT suggests that humans have three basic psychological needs:
Autonomy -- the feeling that we are living our lives based on our choices,
Competence -- a sense of being able to do the things that are important to us,
Relatedness -- a feeling of connectedness to those around us, family, friends, community.
Approaches that better allow for individuals to meet these psychological needs will work better for society. This requires more sophisticated policy thinking than "let government do it." It also requires a recognition of the strengths of individuals and their ability to create excellence and meaning in jobs that some college-educated law makers, governors, school board members, presidents, etc. have trouble seeing as valuable. See the work of the Gallup organization on how the strengths of individuals can make them exceptional as bartenders, hotel maids, and Walgreens' stock clerks. Or see Amy Wiersneski's work on work as a calling for hospital orderlies or administrative assistants in a university.
The idea that anyone without a college education cannot live a good, happy, fulfilling, meaningful life is just wrong. Of course, we don't say that. What we say is that everyone should go to college. But that's what we mean. Even when it is said by a popular president, it's just wrong! College for all? Not a reasonable goal today. Good life for all? Absolutely! Other people matter!