We are at a strange point in time when it comes to the interaction between labor, technology and politics. First, we have an unease about whether or not our economic system can appropriately handle all the labor being displaced by technology [read: Are robots taking all our jobs?]. Second, there is a huge variance in technological literacy between generations. Third, many of our institutions and norms were not built or designed with current or future technology in mind, and culturally we have a sometimes reasonable ethical fear of replacing humans with robots in certain situations. Politicians have not been full of answers, and it is becoming a more and more pressing concern as technology like self check-out and self-driving cars become widespread and feasible.
As an example, let's dive into point number three first. I recently read about the MIT self-driving car morality quiz, Moral Machine. It asks seriously difficult and disturbing questions of the quiz-taker, for the very real and necessary purpose of deciding what driverless cars should do in the case of an unavoidable accident. If the car is driving and can't stop in time, should it hit 2 people walking across the road, likely killing them, or drive into a tree and likely kill the driver? There are many perhaps justifiable opinions here: the car should always endeavor to save the most lives, the car should always take the priority of saving the driver, or the car should always follow the rules of the road. I'm sure you have an opinion on this, but regardless of what it is, I hope you can appreciate the importance of that type of question. Unfortunately, that was the "easy round" and I continued the quiz, mouth agape, when it began asking about whom should die, "a large woman" or "an athlete", "a homeless person" or "a doctor", "a pregnant woman" or "two elderly men." I felt queasy, paused for a moment, then immediately wondered how on earth we were going to create legislation surrounding that topic. Worse yet we could have none, and leave it unregulated so that whatever programmer could decide that Google's cars should preferably kill someone under a certain income threshold. There are important questions to address, real, concrete fears that are not just "old people afraid of technological progress" as I have seen written, and a need for a government that has the capability to address these questions and fears.
The example above, while not directly standard economics, gives sufficient context to why some people are justifiably concerned with technological progress. Marrying that more primal fear with the trend of companies replacing jobs once done by humans with robots, apps, or more efficient machines, and you have a sufficient resentment towards technology that one might wonder why we even bother. However, I do think there is real progress that can be made with technology, but we'll need to rethink how we organize society a bit.
We need to do away with upper-middle class idea/ideal of a job with a high-paying salary, working nine to five, for essentially the whole year (maybe a vacation thrown in), and retiring in one's mid-sixties.
In the 50's the USA had a middle class which included many manufacturing jobs that have since gone elsewhere, or have been absorbed by technological advance. There has been economic growth since then (not that many have seen any of it), so the pie is growing and we should be seeing more positive changes. The problem, when technology is concerned, is that the growth often takes the form of a few machines and a dozen highly paid engineers and managers replacing 50 reasonably paid workers. These workers, for the most part, do not find consistent new work in another industry and end up falling down out of the middle class into underemployment or join the growing ranks of discouraged workers.
To re-create the middle class (among a laundry list of other things), I think those who have formed the new tech-dependent upper-middle class, need to trade some of their salary for time. To illustrate why this needs to happen, we can construct a simple example:
Let's say there are 1,000 hours of engineering (or high level management, or PhD in Economics work, take your pick) needed over whatever time period you feel makes this example work for you. We could have 10 employees doing 100 hours of work, 1 employee doing 1000 hours of work, 100 employees doing 10 hours of work, etc., while keeping the hourly wage constant (so no companies reading need complain about anything effecting their bottom line just yet). The problem being that the current status quo fixes one variable: how many hours it is acceptable for a person to work, 9 to 5, nearly every day of the year. Fixing this one variable means we only have one option above rather than several, and we already have our answer for how many employees are hired: too few.
Were we able to unhinge his status quo, breakaway from someone earning $120k, working 9 to 5, and taking some meager vacation, and replace that with two people both earning $60k each, working 9 to 5, for 6 months each year, or one person earning $60k and working 9 to 1, and their partner taking over after lunch for the same pay, we could swing open the doors to the middle class. Now, when we would have had 50 workers replaced by the 12 upper-middle class and some machines, we get 24 middle-class workers with time to spend with their families, pursue art, and generally just make "labor saving technology" live up to its name.
Obviously this would be a radical departure from the norm, and the examples I gave were highly stylized and set aside many practical problems, but I think there is an idea to be pursued there. Perhaps the next time you are offered a raise, translate that figure into "hours of vacation gained" and tell them to hire someone new and help expand the working class (maybe even to those who are systematically excluded).
Disclaimer: This is not some cure-all substitute for demanding reasonable wages, good working conditions, inclusiveness, standard vacation time, maternity or paternity leave, healthcare, or decent retirement from employers, nor good laws and economic policy from our politicians.