All Demand, No Supply: the Vanishing Human Providers
Imagine a world in which worker demand for jobs increasingly and vastly exceeds employer supply, as robots get the jobs, or one in which the human demand for communication and information dwarfs face-to-face, unmediated, direct human supply of it.
Now also imagine, apart from employment, information and communications, that the human demand for entertainment is met, not by interaction with other humans, but with proxies, surrogates and replacements, such as digital devices, digital games, digital actors in digital movies, robot toys and cybersoftware girlfriends.
In such a world, fabricated or innate human demand would be met primarily, if not exclusively, through a supply of non-human interfaces and entities, especially digital, robotic or otherwise automated sources, such as ATMs, voice recognition software, online movies on demand, automated airport check-in and online “friends” one will never ever actually meet. Again, human demand, non-human supply.
Take this imbalance a step further—seemingly far afield from the domains of employment and economics, into the distinctively, purely human domains of rights, obligations, privileges and entitlements—the bedrock of any society or culture, however primitive and pre-technological. Imagine that the “all demand-no supply” paradigm so completely permeates this imagined world that even the most fundamental, unautomated or digitized relationships, including moral and social contractual, between humans increasingly come to be characterized by expanding and intensifying demand coupled with vanishing supply.
Demand and supply of what?–Demanded rights without the willingness to “supply” what the corresponding obligations entail; a sense of absolute entitlement, paired with obliviousness to the entitlement of others. In short, a narcissistic-individualistic socio-cultural paradigm that mirrors the customized or mass-produced digital and automated satisfaction of lopsided individual, private consumer demand, with direct human supply being either considered unacceptable because inferior, boring or unacceptable because of being an imposition.
Next, make “all demand-no supply” public policy—for example, in the domain of economic management of a nation’s electorate by making them dependent on government food programs for subsistence (in the form of vouchers or food stamps) because they are unable (or in far fewer cases, it is to be hoped, unwilling) to supply the labor required to pay for food. Notice that despite the equivocation here in the interpretation of “all demand-no supply”, the paradigm still applies. That shift in meaning is from “all demand for X-no supply of X” to “all demand for X-no supply of what is needed to get X”.
But the distinction is immaterial to the main point and argument, which is that in such a society demand and supply increasingly vary inversely, irrespective of whether what is increasing is human demand at the expense of human supply of a given X, or human demand for one thing at the expense of human supply of another thing.
In such a society or culture, all of the following would increasingly become not only commonplace, but also the dominant norm:
—People of all ages prefer their digital devices, automata and software-mediated relationships to direct unmediated human interaction as the supply source of the primary means of filling their leisure time and gaining information.
—Human servicing machines, software, etc., that meet those and other human needs evolve, while average humans devolve—intellectually, morally and especially socially into stunted isolation (save for the pockets of individual and organized resistance to the trend and to other perceived wrongs. Accompanying this devolution is the deterioration of the capacity of unassisted humans to supply what is needed to meet increasingly demanding demands, e.g., for higher and higher levels of stimulation and simulation of the sort special effects in movies provide. And, yes, those who design, build, market and service those human-service surrogates evolve capabilities to meet their job challenges; but they are an elite at the top of a very average-consumer pyramid.)
—Increasingly, people will demand respect from other people, but will mysteriously be very reluctant to reciprocate it or even have any conscious awareness that they should supply such respect as well as demand it. Again, demand and supply varying inversely, rather than directly, as the idealized paradigm of the free market predicts or encourages us to hope.
—More and more humans will look for intimacy with virtual, cyber and other human surrogates, as did the lovestruck protagonist who fell in love with his lovemate software in the 2013 movie “Her” (mocked, if not matched by the real-life case of the fellow who petitioned the Utah legislature for the right to marry his porn-laden computer—and failed, as did his earlier comparable motion before a Florida judge).
—Economic transactions that are machine or software-based will be clearly preferred to the slower, less predictable human counterparts—and preferred not only by humans demanding such transaction services, but also by those supplying them (at arm’s length, in human terms, from the consumer, of course), as artificial intelligence, robotics and other forms of non-human automation surpass humans in productivity, engagement, reliability, cost, etc.
—The entertainment and celebrity industries will glamorize those who have the power to do whatever they want—i.e., have all their demands met—far more often than glamorize those who have the will to do what they should for the benefit of or in recognition of others.
—Entitlement programs expand, e.g., for non-citizens, with a corresponding successful expansion of what is needed to sustain the wellsprings of national wealth required to pay for them (although it must be allowed that some such programs may, in the long run, pay for themselves in terms of enabling their beneficiaries to make eventual contributions to national wealth, in the form of taxes and talent, while becoming trackable and traceable within that framework, rather than entirely undocumented).
—“I have needs that other humans cannot satisfy as completely as non-human suppliers can” becomes a core mantra, which has as its corollary “I am unwilling or unwelcome to meet those same needs in other humans”. Those other humans range from employers who cannot or will not offer a job to flesh-and-blood singles who prefer steel and plastic-mediated companionship and kids who prefer playstations to playmates.
In citing the eerie and disturbing parallels between “all demand-no supply” values and trends in technology, social welfare, ethics, employment, entertainment, personality structure and social relations, I feel I’ve identified a core feature of an emerging zeitgeist.
As such, it is a pervasive theme, paradigm and set of values that define the spirit and direction of an historical era, much as the mantra of “survival of the fittest” or the social-industrial-technological extension of the icon and paradigm of the web or clock have at various times and places in the past 200 years.
In presenting these ideas and tacit warnings, I am hoping not only that some of the less appealing aspects of an “all demand-no supply” era will be recognized and addressed, but also that my presentation of them will not amount to the opposite….
…An “all supply-no demand” article read by no one but me and an editor.