It's the same old song and dance. We go to work, a screen glares at us. We come home at night and gaze back at it. It's mechanical. It's routine.
In Man's Search for Meaning, psychologist Victor Frankl explains that unemployed workers can suffer from a 'provisional existence'. With no goals for which to direct their energy, they fail to look ahead to the future - and a deep void sets within.
Fast forward some years, and our fundamental needs could be taken care of through basic income schemes. A guaranteed stipend by which to live decently, for the most part, would mean little need to work. The question lurks then, how would you spend your time? And would you too suffer from a provisional existence?
A Lonely Arcade
Leading thinkers of the post work movement are already planning for this possible future. And Toronto based artist, Robert Bolton takes the reasoning to the extreme; the proliferation of artificial intelligence finally leads to designing, "A scheme for a fair and universal basic income to be paid out via blockchain technologies." Countless years of full-time labor finally come to an end. A hyper-abundant society results in a new ideology; luxury communism.
In this world, where we are not characterized by what we do because work no longer holds the same gravitas as today. Indubitably we continue to stare at screens, choosing to escape into virtual worlds. We laze about in soulless, smokey, neon-heavy halls -- and waste away our days in a lonely arcade.
We're all well aware that routinized jobs can, and will, be performed by robots. For now, it's a way for many to continue paying the bills. But the sacrifice these workers make beyond labor is often suffering a dysfunctional and toxic environment every day. The lonely arcade, a plot accelerated by the very technology displacing them, might then be a welcomed relief.
It's also possible that people find meaning regardless of the outward utility of their pursuits. Since work wouldn't hold the same social currency or cultural importance as today, intrinsic motivations and labors of love might become the benchmark of a life well spent.
A fulfilling life without work (as we know work today) could be realized through emotional labor and charity work that is so undervalued today. Raising families, volunteering, or taking up multiple hobbies could be how many choose to direct their energy.
On the flipside, Netflixing for days on end, hardcore gaming, staring at goats, or simply doing nothing at all could be preferred ways to pass the time. For these folks, life could in effect resemble a never-ending Seinfeld episode.
The Leisure Decree
To keep the lonely arcade running smoothly; a leisure decree is enforced by intelligent computers. "The only currency of any consequence is reputation, and much time and energy is spent trying to build celebrity status and increase followings," says Bolton. This isn't a far cry from what we see today with social media addiction and clout-climbing tactics to garner influence. In a self-perpetuating attention-grabbing loop, the only capital of any consequence is that of notoriety.
Indeed two generations have already grown up with a worldview embodied by the internet, with all its promise and perils. Millennials now face the bleakest financial future of any generation in over a century. And it's part and parcel of the reason many talented young workers are retiring in real-time. Wanderlust and work are now natural bedfellows.
With the idea of stability a mere fable from generations gone, a leisure decree, of some sort, might be appealing. Finding meaning purpose in the most expansive meaning of 'work' -- that beyond a wage -- could emerge as the norm.
The new workforce is hip to the fact that if a company's values are not aligned with their own, there is little chance they will thrive in the long haul. This is precisely why two out of every three millennials expect to leave their company in the next 18 months. There are really only two courses of action: find another place to work that 'get it' or strike out on their own.
We also need to move beyond the story of the American dream which puts the individual front and center stage. A more progressive 'we're all in this together' attitude is the only thinking that is going to help design the systems we need to flourish tomorrow. As techno-optimist Tim O'Reilly remarks it's our "unbroken human spirit" that is going to get us there.
The Lonely Arcade may remain a fictional scenario -- a story of an unrealized tomorrow. Yet it's a cautionary tale; if we don't change our narrative, a bleak future lies ahead. What we urgently need now is for more of us to cultivate our talents, get creative, solve problems, and follow our nose.