Benefits of being slow

The weekly editorial for the 100 Mile Free Press.

I was at the Peter Skene Secondary School scholarship tea; my first in about ten years since attending them as a student myself. I also have a son, who will hopefully graduate in just under two decades himself. I find it hard to think of what career advice I would give a young person today.

It doesn’t feel like the job market has changed significantly from when I graduated to now, but certainly reading articles about jobs likely to be automated in the next decade or two paint a pretty dramatic picture with pretty much every national news outlet, from CBC to Global, have written stories on “X percentage of jobs at risk of automation.”

Certainly, in the last ten years, the narrative south of the border has changed and having visited some Canadian manufacturing cities is a bit depressing at best. While I’m looking at the glass half empty, I might conclude we’re all frogs slowly being brought to a boil in the job market pot.

One of the most frequently cited studies, Frey and Osborne 2013, estimates that a retail salesperson job has a 92 per cent probability of being computerizable in the next decades. However, it’s a little hard to see, how the effects in rural B.C. could be as dramatic as predicted; as human beings, we already do many jobs that could be “obsolete.”

In 100 Mile, you’ll still find gas stations where an attendant will fill up your car for you (despite the technology having long ago replaced the need for an attendant), you still find bookstores and electronics stores (despite Amazon having been around since 1994) and we still have real estate agents (despite sites ranging from Kijiji to PropertyGuys making it much easier to sell it yourself).

Maybe not everyone, but many people like supporting local businesses, knowing who’s selling them what and, especially in a small town, the extra step and service people provide. My wife and I are part of the generation that’s most accustomed to ordering things online and yet we buy almost everything locally. The only exception here is things that can’t be acquired locally (i.e. my wife recently ordered a signed copy of her favourite book from a small bookstore in the U.S.).

If you need proof, some things that “should be” becoming obsolete, such as indie bookstores, are actually on the rise. Furthermore, Amazon recently opened its first store without any checkouts. You simply walk in, tap your cell phone, grab what you want and walk back out. Is that cool? Definitely. Could big chains such as WalMart implement similar technology? Definitely. Is it coming to 100 Mile is the next decade? Who are we kidding… The first self-checkout machine was installed in 1992; 25 years ago. We still haven’t exactly lost all cashier jobs in 100 Mile to that. While as a town we may have to take the lead on senior’s issues in northern living conditions, as far as job loss to automation or computerization that’s going to be a problem that’ll be figured out somewhere else first.

100 Mile House Free Press