The Average Problem

“Never read a best-seller. A best-seller appeals to the average man, and an average man reads average literature.” -Ibu Hatela

 

Would you cross a river if it was 4 feet deep on average? If your answer was ‘no’; you are one of the smarter ones. If your goal is to cross the river without drowning then the average depth of the river is not relevant for your purpose, if anything it only serves to distort reality. The average depth does not matter if the river is 18 feet deep at its deepest.

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This problem of misunderstanding information from a variety of sources merely because the information reflects ‘average’ of a particular situation can land us in a variety of pickles. An ‘average’ of anything is important when the average is all you need. But would you take an average 7/10 doctor? Or an average 7/10 lawyer? Especially if there were 9.9’s and you had the money to pay them? Hell, you would take a 9.9 over a 9.8.

Globalization and its effects- Winner takes all

Think of yourself wanting to listen to good music 300 years ago. The best you could probably do was to listen to someone in your town and someone accessible to you. So every town would have its share of good musicians who would’ve played every weekend to reasonable crowds. They might not have been as famous as some of their peers and probably played the songs created by their more illustrious colleagues. However, it meant that there was a demand for a large number of musicians.

With the advent of globalization, there is a winner takes all aspect of the market that has come up. Why would you pay upwards of 500 rupees to hear some musicians play covers of Pink Floyd when you can listen to them on your music player? With increasing inter-connectedness in the world, the best musician takes not only the fame, but financial benefits of the entire system that once supported a large number of people.

Scalable Industries

As of yet, the ‘winner takes all’ concept is applicable to industries that can be termed ‘scalable’ in nature. Scalable industries are those where the industry can be disrupted globally. E.g. The music industry, or social networking industry where corporates such as Facebook have taken over the entire international market. Even football has become international in nature with people following teams such as Barcelona FC more than Mumbai FC.

So if you want to hire a car from point A to point B you still need a driver, come what may. Now if the Google Car is successful, you might have software driving you. Think of that for a minute. To drive the millions of office goers and travellers around the world there are employed millions of drivers. But with the advent of software, a few different programmes from a few different companies would be used to drive cars. This would disrupt the entire present business mode leaving millions unemployed with financial benefits accruing to a few top companies.

Future tense with technology

Technological advancements are generally nothing but new ways to do an activity faster, with more accuracy and with less labour expended. This usually means laying off workers as humans cannot compete with machines on a variety of tasks- such as working 24 hours, that humans cannot compete with.

With the digital revolution under way, there is bound to be an increasing number of disruptions that are going to change the world we live in. We could see these disruptions as a threat to our comfortable way of life or think of them as opportunities that we can use to reach our goals.

The advent of the spinning jenny and other forms of automation during the beginning of the Industrial Revolution had rendered a large chunk of India’s human-powered economy obsolete. One British factory could consistently make cheaper, better and more textiles than thousands of Indian weavers. As we could not adjust to the changing times and compete with British technological supremacy, the economy soon crumbled and became nothing but a supplier of raw materials for the Brits.

A similar trend can be seen today as the digital revolution gathers pace, a lot of 20th century jobs will be obsolete and people with 20th century ideas of the world will be left behind. Companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon are setting the pace. Note that these companies are far far ahead of any meaningful ‘competition’. There are no prizes for being second best.

Today these companies seem to be minor conveniences that merely better our lives but Amazon has already shown how they can alone do the job employing lakhs earlier, and the trend is sure to continue in new and as yet unknown ways. Maybe there will be a few other retailers such as Walmart that could compete, but the era of millions of individual retailers could be over soon.

Conclusion

The world is moving towards a new era where erstwhile ‘comfortable’ jobs are going to get scarce- they already are, as automation and Information Technology catch up with the real economy. If your job can be automated, it will be automated. Perhaps new ‘comfortable’ jobs will come up but would you want to bet on your future source of livelihood?

The era of being second best at something as that activity would be indulged in by millions of others seems to be over. If you are average, then someone smarter, richer and more powerful is going to take your market share away till there is only one- or a few top dogs in the business. Remember that from the lakhs of small retailers there is only Walmart that is left standing. From the scores of e-commerce websites, Amazon has emerged the winner. These stories will become more and more common as we move further into the digital age.

To end on a positive note, the good thing for us lawyers is that jobs are more plentiful than other sectors and much better paying even if we are merely ‘decent’. Technological advancement has not been particularly harsh on our profession- yet.

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