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Employment in the Digital Age: Bring on the Bots!

Much of humanity, especially here in the great United States of America, with our Industrial Revolution, has been conditioned to believe that our value and even our very purpose is in our ability to work. It’s often the first identifier we state in a conversation with a new acquaintance, after our names – what we do. But, more often it’s worded as who we are.

“My name is John, and I am a banker/construction worker/teacher/etc.”  

Our work is our identity. It’s no wonder so many people fear “The machines taking over” our jobs.

Nothing could be worse than being told meaning could only be found in one thing – then having that one thing taken away

Hannah Arendt: The Human Condition

But what if we figured out that we are more than the menial jobs that automation would replace us in? I’ve even personally heard guff about the automated self checkout scanners at grocery stores. “Stealing jobs away from real people that need them.” Alright, but if we look at it from a Spiritual or even meaning-of-life point of view – who’s great calling and purpose is it to scan your Corn Flakes and toilet paper? Not mine. And I can say with confidence, you magnificent creature, that it’s not yours either. Whose heart is sustained and soul fulfilled by standing in a dusty factory assembling cheap toys? Elves probably… but we as humans, need more.

We were not created for this. For hours and hours of our day spent in the buzz of fluorescent lights and recycled air.  Many of us not even seeing sunlight for days at a time, because of unnatural hours caused by the ‘need’ to keep the machine running. And to whose benefit? It’s rarely our own – we give our lifeforce and the only true currency – Our Time – to our work, and the real profit of this goes largely unseen on that individual level. We get our paychecks – and for those fortunate enough, that paycheck pays for the house/apartment you slide home to with enough time to eat and sleep – to rest your body enough to sustain work for the next day. And for the transportation needed to get you to and from work. Are we just working… to pay for our ability to work? That’s a pretty gross concept.

work quote

Of course basic human needs must be met. And we mainly consider those to be: food, water, shelter, warmth, clothes, and so on along those lines. However, judging by the collective mental health of our country, not referring only to depression or extreme disabilities, but the uptick in anxiety and general unhappiness that many people are trudging through their daily lives with, and the fact that being overly busy and exhausted is the socially accepted norm – Where is rest, play, and spirituality on the list of basic human needs? There’s no time for that, man! And if you make time or insist on those things as priority – as they should be – you’re lazy or a flake or worse: A Millennial. *collective gasp* Because our value has been placed on our work. On how much we can produce. On how many activities we can stuff into a single 24 hour time period before the seams of our sanity burst.

millenials quote

So, my official stance is: Bring on the ‘bots. While there will of course be some growing pains in our culture to make the change from humans to automation – which may take a number of years, as we have a lot of unlearning of conditioned behavior to deal with – I think the future of employment is taking a beautiful turn. Technology itself is shifting the workforce from manual labor to the more mentally powered and technical STEM fields anyway. This is going to happen – as it is the incredible nature of Humanity as creators and innovators. Instead of fighting or resisting this growth – let’s embrace and celebrate the release of one of our greatest burdens.

What would our society look like if we were free to follow our passions?

There have been plenty of studies done that show that humans, in general, enjoy working. We are not a lazy species. In fact 68% of people say they would continue to work, even after winning the Lottery. (2013 Gallup Poll). And with the rise of the Millennial generation, we are perfectly poised for this transition. These, now young adults, get so much flack for being whiney, lazy, and entitled – but this is coming from the generation that is conditioned to believe they were born to work… until they die. The Millennial generation, I feel, is simply misunderstood. They aren’t demanding No Work – but simply meaningful work – and a blending of work and life, instead of our past struggle of trying to balance the two. Their drive isn’t money anymore – it’s making a difference in the world with their time and energy. They demand to be valued, which is somehow being seen as selfish. Hooray for them for realizing they aren’t just a numbered cog in a conglomerate machine.

Now is a good time to touch back on the basic human needs being met thing. I know what you’re thinking: Money. How do we pay for life if we’re all out hugging trees or writing memoirs that only our moms will end up reading? This is one of those growing pains I mentioned. But it isn’t an insurmountable road block. Automation is much, much less expensive than human labor – which brings costs down across the board, resulting in a lower cost of living. The potential for needing less money is definitely there, as long as corporate greed is a beast we wrangle and defeat. Which needs to happen. Don’t even get me started on the Pharmaceutical industry or Health Care for profit…. *deep breaths*

I believe Millennials are the Knights in Shining armor we need to slay that particular dragon as well. They won’t stand for that for long, and more and more are coming of age to hold positions of true influence in our country. They will also comprise 40% of the workforce by the year 2020, according to Jamie Gutfreund, Chief Strategy Officer at The Intelligence Group. I’m genuinely excited about Millennials, guys. We all have our faults sure, but these kids are gonna change the world.

Another intriguing and completely doable (there are studies! Do your Googles) option is the concept of Universal Basic Income. Let’s say you got $1,800 every month just for being a U.S. Citizen – would that help you out? What would you do with that extra money? The rise in minimalism and people reclaiming their ‘joy’ from the sticky paws of consumerism, is evidence that it mostly likely wouldn’t be a bigger house or shinier car. Which is perfectly alright, if that’s your wish. But, in general, we as a civilization are discovering that our happiness isn’t coming from all the stuff we’re told we need to buy in order to be happy.

Look at the “Van Life” movement. People are selling off their material possessions in lieu of travel, adventure, and freedom. While that lifestyle certainly isn’t for everyone, it’s great evidence that we’re waking up to the idea that our time is valuable and life should be lived – not slaved through until retirement, when we’re too old and tired to do all the things on our Bucket Lists. Even the concept of a Bucket List is sad if we think about it. ‘I made a list of all the things I wish I could have done in life, but was too busy working, so I’m gonna see how many I can hobble through before I croak.’

Having a Universal Basic Income (UBI) to supplement our passionate pursuits would free up not only our time and our physical bodies, but our minds and spirits as well. We’ve been told the benefits of meditation – but how does that help if we’re too mentally exhausted to practice it?

I don’t believe a UBI would turn people lazy or complacent. Some, sure, but there’s the potential for abuse in any system. On the large scale, I think it would be a stunning example and one step closer to how humanity should operate. There would be no poverty. No homelessness. All of our citizens, in this “Greatest Country on Earth” would be taken care of. That brings an energy of respect and value to our community that we’ve never felt before. I believe that very energy could be the catalyst for even greater and more powerful change.

What would some of these people do if they didn’t have to work 60 hour work weeks to make ends meet? How would the children of our communities turn out if we as parents had the time to dedicate to their upbringing that is impossible for so many at this time? I have talked with numerous people that wish their lives consisted of something more meaningful, but by the end of their work day they’re just too exhausted to even consider what their heart’s passion is… or what would make them happier, let alone having the time to actually pursue it. They resort to mind numbing activity, like T.V., gaming, or social media, to give their brains a break in order to function well enough to start the process over again the next day. Or to simply disconnect from the reality they’re… trapped.

After Steam Engines were invented in the Industrial Revolution – The Cinema and Music Industries were born. The release of this type of labor – frees up our passion, our creativity.

Our way of life is changing. As it always does, so will our amazingly progressive species. Let’s get excited!

employment in the digital age: bring on the bots!
too busy quote
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