By Tobias van Schneider Published December 12, 2016
I know this is a little bit of a harsh title and I didn't mean to make it sound that negative, but this topic has been on my head for a while now.
And more recently outlets started to write about this topic, such as Aeon magazine which just recently published an article about it.
From the very beginning of my life everything always resolved around getting a job, working and getting paid. It seems almost weird to question this system because this is just how it works since hundreds of years.
And if you've been reading my articles for a while, you know that I love work. And that brings me to an important question I asked myself:
What is work?
There is no universal answer right now, only your personal opinion. But when most people hear the word "work" it has some negative associations to it. For example we often like to say "I can't come to dinner tonight, I have to work" making it sound like work is some evil that pulls us away from everything we would rather do instead, even though that might not be the case. It always makes it sound like as if I "have" to work and as if it's out of my control.
Maybe I should rather say: "I can't come, because I WANT to work.". But of course, this now makes it sound like your dinner has less priority, so this choice of words brings it's own complications.
So when we go back to the question from above, work can be either good or bad. Sometimes this depends only on your perception of it, but sometimes it's also just a matter of privilege.
Ultimately, work falls into two categories for me but with a much bigger meaning hidden behind it.
Some people have to work in order to survive. Some people are privileged enough to either choose to work at all, or at least choose what kind of work they want to do everyday, which of course changes the perception of work and turns it more into an activity of pleasure.
But generally, work and having a job brings a lot of hidden benefits with it. For example, most people would probably go crazy if they wouldn't have a daily schedule, even though they hate that particular schedule.
I also believe that hard work builds character. It makes me appreciate things and it gives me pleasure to create things. But if we're honest about it, the majority of people in this world don't have a job that enables them to create. The majority do work that shouldn't be done by humans in the first place. It's work without meaning, such as working in big factories repeating the same task over and over again.
I just recently had this conversation where one person in the group was upset by the fact that self-driving cars will eventually get rid of millions of jobs. For example in America, about 2.8 million people drive a truck around all day getting things from A to B. Self-driving trucks or other inventions can easily get rid of all of these jobs within just a few years.
Now the question is, is that a good or a bad thing? Also, is driving a truck all day for the majority of your life really the best use of your time?
I'm sure there are some truck drivers out there who would tell you that they love their job. And I'm pretty sure there are many who do. But also, how many people only say that because they've given up on what they really want to do, or just never in their life felt that there is something else they could do? I'm not judging, I'm just asking.
My point is, how would a future look like where the majority of humans don't have to work at all or simply can choose their work as an optional activity? What if this would be a privilege everyone can enjoy?
Do you think this is a good thing? Or would it put the majority of us in a great depression because we wouldn't know what to do with all of this new acquired free time?
I'm pretty sure that in the short term many of us would probably welcome the theoretical idea of it, but practically we would suffer from boredom and ultimately sadness and depression.
But on the other hand, you can already see that today. Boredom is the ‘privilege’ of modern man and more people than ever suffer from depression and aren't creatively satisfied with the work they do because the work itself provides very little to no meaning, even if that job provides very well for themselves and their family. With the majority stuck in retail sales, cashier jobs or even well paid dull office jobs there is very little that makes you feel like you accomplished something.
Are we fucked either way?
At one hand the majority of us works in shitty underpaid low-wage jobs that make us struggle financially, and on the other we have dull office jobs that remove the financial struggle but make us go insane.
So you're essentially left with two choices: Distress or Boredom.
“Mankind was apparently doomed to vacillate between the two extremities of distress and boredom." ~Schopenhauer.
In actual fact, boredom is now causing more problems to solve that distress. And these problems are growing increasingly crucial, for progressive automation will probably lead to an enormous increase in the leisure hours available to the average worker. The pity of it is that many of these will not know what to do with all their newly acquired free time.” - Viktor E. Frankl
Simply put: Even if technology is helping us to solve all these problems and free more people from their shitty job, what happens next? What will you do with all of your free time?
After all, work seems to be the necessary evil for a healthy human being. But maybe work is the wrong term, because work is just a vehicle for routine, progress and activity, right? Maybe even just a legal drug to escape the much feared feeling of boredom.
I honestly don't know. But I have this on my mind all the time. The thing is, even if we solve this problem in the future, like let's say we manage to free the majority of our population from a daily job (because machines are now doing that), while still providing everyone with food and shelter of course. - How would that play out?
What will happen to those people who want to work because they want to enjoy more luxury? Is it fair? Because I assume that even in a world where basic things such as food and shelter is provided, people still seek for luxury which means there will be always someone who has something that you don't have, even though you live a perfectly fine life.
And what will happen to those people who just choose to stay at home, and while perfectly financial stable they're deeply depressed due to boredom?
Maybe this goes down all the way to how we raise our children and what we teach in school. Right now we teach people how to follow rules, routines and become great employees. People nowadays need to be told what to do in order to be happy, and if no one says what they should do, they're not happy.
Maybe in the future we will raise more self-directed human beings, more people who choose to make art and just be active on their own schedule.
Does that mean people weren't bored before the 1760s or does it mean people were experienced boredom but didn't feel the urge to express it, because they felt perfectly content with it?
Now, the reason I wrote this article is because I want to inspire you to think about this yourself. Forming your own opinion, using it as a dinner table discussion or simply as a motivation to think about a potential world without jobs and how you personally would feel about it.
It's about asking questions rather than finding the right answers. The answer will come soon enough.