Will people need to work in the future?
The cover of the current issue of The Atlantic cries out, “Technology will soon erase millions of jobs. Could that be a good thing?” followed by the phrase “THE END OF WORK.”
In his article “A World Without Work,” Derek Thompson, a senior editor of the magazine, describes changes in the international economy that are likely to radically transform nature of employment – that people will become greatly less important as employees.
Fact or fiction: Jobs will become obsolete due to technology, robots, and AI.
Thompson offers the example of the role of the horse in the U.S. economy of the 19th century. As tractors (steam and then gasoline) were developed to pull plows and cultivators, the population of horses and mules in the U.S. declined until they are mainly recreational – riding, rodeos and horse shows.
Two centuries later, the computer is changing the means by which the economy produces jobs, which are not only the means by which people earn income, but to many the major source of activity that lends meaning to their lives. Thompson refers this phenomenon as “technological unemployment.”
According to some, we’re facing the prospect of an economic shift where society’s productivity is replaced by the pursuit of self-expression.
While technological unemployment may very well be an issue of the future, being a lifelong careerist, I have a difficult time accepting one solution explored in the article: a new economy centered on “craftsmanship and artistry” (shouldn't that be craftpersonship?) where future workers’ abundance of leisure time is filled with pursuits of self-expression.
Coming soon: the “Age of Arts and Crafts.” Are you on board?
Thompson describes the emergence of “makerspaces” such as the “Idea Foundry” in Columbus, Ohio. It’s a converted shoe factory stocked with industrial-age machines, where several hundred members pay a monthly fee to make gifts and jewelry, play with plasma cutters, or operate a lathe with a machinist's supervision.
Sure thing. But who will direct the technology that’s producing the food that we eat, the automobiles that (the Uber drivers use to) transport us, the homes we live in, and the clothing that protects us from the weather (if not conceals our nakedness) as we luxuriate in arts and crafts?
This article first appeared in the Kuder Blog August 11, 2015