The first electronic computer was invented in 1943. The first electronic handheld calculator followed this invention in the 1960s (60 years ago). This meant that, for the first time ever, humans were able to engage in mass calculation. A feat that can be understood by viewing how mass calculation changed the workflow of modern businesses.
Paypal is a financial service that allows people to generate electronic transactions. In 2019, PayPal processed 12.362 billion transactions; or 33.86 million transactions per day (on average). With 23,200 employees (in 2019), that’s 532,845 transactions per employee per year; or ~1460 transactions per employee per day. This calculation still assumes that everyone employed by PayPal works on its transaction service. Of course, this is not the case.
What is the non-technological equivalent of a PayPal transaction? First, you must acquire a physical representation of the cash you plan to send. Then, you must mail it to an address (i.e USPS) so another person can receive the mail. Once the mail has been received, another person must ensure that the transaction is valid: Without calculators, you must perform math by hand. If the transaction involves business, more people must get involved to ensure the transaction is legal and logged.
And PayPal does this 33.86 million times a day. That’s a lot of f*cking mail.
The Google Search Engine is used to find information on the internet. Since Google doesn’t share search volume data, it’s impossible to know how many searches occur per day. However, it’s estimated that Google processes 5.6 billion searches per DAY. With 156,500 people employed in 2021, that accounts to ~35,783 searches per employee per day. Of course, not everyone works on the search engine.
What is the non-technological equivalent of a Google search? First, you must send a letter containing the keywords you wish to search for — by mail — to a building. Then, that building must have someone index the information within the building using the keyword you sent. Once this has been done, the information can be sent back to you by mail. If you are looking for a building to pick up the information yourself, boomers call them “libraries”.
Even with 8 billion people on Earth, there is no way humanity could achieve 5.6 billion searches per day — consistently for a year — by hand. Such that the invention of a “simple” handheld calculator is one of humanity’s greatest accomplishments. Then there is the electronic computer. If the factory signified the Industrial Era through the automation of physical labor, the calculator signifies the Information Age through the automation of mental calculation. However, there is just one issue…What is the Cost?
Amazon ships ~2 billion packages (in the U.S) per year: Every time a package is shipped, it involves the usage of a U.S Interstate Highway System that American citizens pay taxes for. So what makes Amazon possible? Not just its owners. Not just its workers. Not just its customers. But an entire nation of taxpayers.
As I understand it, you — the reader — are a taxpayer. I’m a taxpayer. There may be some people among us who dodge taxes… In any case, who has to pay for the wear and tear on the road when Amazon uses it? You. Who gets the reward when the package is delivered? Amazon’s shareholders. Forget your reward. Not even the workers get a reward (beyond their contractual agreement). In our current system, the only people who are given a share are the people who own the company and the assets that the system comprises.
The best part about tax debates is that the poor and rich both say the exact same thing: “We should pay as much as them!”
The lack of reward for every contributor involved doesn’t stop at Amazon. There are many circumstances where society benefits a business for “free”. Of course, I’m no saint. Yet who pays the price? This work is available off the backs of our mothers, fathers, educational leaders, and the work that we as citizens have provided. Companies are allowed to come along and use that work for free without hesitation… It’s not illegal. Who gets rewarded though? A small handful of owners.
Are we ready for automation?