Office Hours with Drew University’s Chris Andrews

Technology has eliminated jobs, but it hasn’t eliminated work

June 2021 – This summer, we’re spending time in office hours with some of Drew University’s amazing faculty to learn about what interests and inspires them and their research.

Today, we’re talking with Chris Andrews, Associate Professor and Chair of Sociology and Co-Director of Business Studies.

What about your field interests you most?

Technology has eliminated jobs but it hasn’t eliminated work.

That’s somewhat counterintuitive. Go on.

Technology is often depicted by our culture and media as a potential threat to employment—look at popular books with titles like Rise of the RobotsThe End of WorkA World Without Work. However, in some occupations Americans are actually working more hours than they did in previous years.

How so?

If we look at economic history, declining employment in one economic sector (e.g., agriculture) has historically coincided with increasing employment in another (e.g., manufacturing). We tend to overlook how innovation is shaped by cultural, economic, political, and social forces.

How do you bring the topic into the Drew classroom?

Through examples that resonate with students, like why self-checkout lanes didn’t eliminate cashiers in supermarkets. It seems counterintuitive, but there are actually more cashiers now than there were a decade ago. Why didn’t they eliminate those jobs?

Students are also seeing and experiencing this phenomenon with the rise of the “gig economy” and services based on digital platforms and smartphone technology. Apps that let customers order their food at Panera freed up cashiers to do things like provide table service and delivery. Specific jobs will come and go as innovation continually reshapes the economy, but it looks like work is here to stay.

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