The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Deirdre Macken macken.deirdre@

When I told a friend I’d started prac­tis­ing yoga again, she asked where I was going to classes. Oh no, I replied, I’ve down­loaded a yoga app so I can do any type of yoga class, any­time, any­where, and all for the one-off price of $4.49.

She might have been a bit jeal­ous be­cause she said, so you sacked your yoga teacher? Later in the week, when I was sa­lut­ing the sun with my new screen guru, I had to agree. I’d sacked my yoga teacher.

But that’s not the only Aus­tralian worker I’ve sacked. Take my app for learn­ing Ital­ian. I was going to book a course in Ital­ian at my lo­cal com­mu­nity col­lege. But then I found a $5.99 app. Now I prac­tise Ital­ian any­time, even dur­ing down­ward dog if I want. So I’ve kind of sacked an Ital­ian teacher too.

When I asked friends if they’d sacked any work­ers, one said she used to at­tend Weight Watch­ers classes but now used the app; an­other dumped her trainer when she got a Fitbit; and a tradie said he learned ev­ery­thing about tiling from YouTube.

And that’s just the ob­vi­ous peo­ple we’ve sacked. If you track all the stuff your smart­phone does — the music, books and mag­a­zines that you get for next to noth­ing; the clothes bought off­shore; the busi­ness ser­vices pro­cured on the cheap; the dates found with­out lift­ing a glass — then there are many more.

Ev­ery time you open an app, a job dis­ap­pears. Or, more pre­cisely, ev­ery time you open an app, a wage drops, a price gets cut, a busi­ness loses a few more cus­tomers, a tradie sits in the ute a lit­tle longer and, some­times, a whole in­dus­try dis­ap­pears. If ev­ery­thing on the phone is do­ing stuff cheaper, faster and bet­ter than re­al­world providers, then real peo­ple have to cut prices, cut wages or join the un­em­ployed. Sure there are a few win­ners who are making big money from screen ser­vices, but so far there are many, many more losers in the real world.

Now this leak­age of busi­ness, prices, wages and op­por­tu­ni­ties is hard to de­tect. There are no com­pany an­nounce­ments about plant clo­sures. Gov­ern­ments don’t step in with res­cue pack­ages. No one announces, an­other yoga teacher lost their job be­cause Deirdre and her friends down­loaded Yoga Stu­dio.

But economic sta­tis­tics are pick­ing it up and peo­ple are feel­ing it. They know cus­tomers are harder to find and tougher to please. They know they have to ac­cept less even if no one ex­plains why. Some­times they talk to the yoga teacher in the cafe and they shake their heads at what has hap­pened to busi­ness con­di­tions. And if poll­sters ask them if they ex­pect their kids to do bet­ter in life than they did, they re­ply no.

Apps are not the whole story but they’re the eas­i­est to see and, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts, are just the be­gin­ning. Ro­bot­ics, blockchain, cloud com­put­ing, the in­ter­net of ev­ery­thing and in­no­va­tions that don’t have names yet will make more jobs dis­ap­pear. Some re­ports say 40 per cent of to­day’s jobs will dis­ap­pear. Some say it’s higher.

But not many peo­ple read those re­ports. No one blames the apps on their phone for their stag­nant wages, tough con­di­tions and cut-price con­tracts. Even if they’re aware of the old jobs that are dis­ap­pear­ing be­cause of tech­nol­ogy, they can’t see the jobs that aren’t be­ing cre­ated be­cause tech­nol­ogy is al­ready in that seat.

So they kick out at peo­ple they can see; leaders who were once re­spon­si­ble for reg­u­lat­ing their lives, peo­ple who have some­thing to do with the new world or­der or just peo­ple who piss them off. They take their frus­tra­tions out on the EU, Washington, global in­sti­tu­tions and politi­cians who are more ex­cited by change than threat­ened by it. And they flock to those who sound as pissed off as they are. They chase yes­ter­day be­cause they don’t un­der­stand what’s hap­pen­ing to­day and are fright­ened of what to­mor­row will bring.

But they too have apps on their smart­phone and a brows­ing his­tory that be­trays the on­line mar­kets they’ve vis­ited. The new ser­vices come from ev­ery­where but the faces they re­place are Aus­tralian, some­times they’re lo­cal and some­times they’re nice guys. Sorry.

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