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I’m attending a technology conference where no fewer than two dozen people are walking around saying that they’re experts on the future of work. If they’re not using the word expert, they’re referring to themselves as futurists.

I remember the first time I heard ‘futurist’ as a job title. I was working as an HR generalist, and those were the days of AOL instant messenger and Mapquest. My brain went like this:

Futurist. Futurist? Futurist?!!!#*$@%#@(%^Q*W(HFOEW

I was appalled. “Work psychic” was a better way to describe what this guy was selling. No more accurate or accountable than Dionne Warwick, and, also, less entertaining.

Now it’s 2017, and everybody is an expert on the future of work. I would throw myself into the mix except that I’m an expert on the future of no work. If we’re headed towards a society where work becomes an ephemeral experience that pays you in feelings instead of money, please count me the hell out.

But, let’s be honest, I’m as much of an expert on the future of work as anybody else. I have a few thoughts.

First of all, I worry that the future of work isn’t one future. It’s many scenarios based on your race, class, and gender. Unless we finally have our first human warp-speed flight and make contact with the Vulcans, it’s unlikely that anything will save us from our current path of self-immolation.

I also fear that the future of work isn’t robots. It’s people being treated like machinery and toiling under the threat of being replaced by automation. Work ten hours instead of eight because the robots are coming. Be happy with your 2.8% merit increase because the alternative could be zero. Put chicken in the bucket for the man.

Finally, without basic income, I think the future of work isn’t work. It’s people living off capital gains and hoarding real estate, and then it’s indentured servitiude for the working class. The wealthy will distract us with 20th-century social issues like abortion and gay rights so that we don’t rise up against them.

Depressing, yeah, I know. I’m sorry. People don’t want to hear my apocalyptic predictions because there’s no feel-good solution. Unless we take a stand — or take up arms — we’ll continue to be manipulated by social elitists who hoard money and power.

Sucks to be on the wrong side of the money-making equation.

How can you participate in the future of work without inciting a revolution? The honest answer is that I’m not sure. It wouldn’t hurt to pursue an education anchored in literature and history. Keep up your education as you get older. Reading helps to develop critical thinking skills, which leads to pattern recognition. If you can see your own demise, maybe you can beat it.

It’s also crucial to learn how to differentiate fact from feelings, which is a journey of a lifetime. If you can understand the difference between your self-interest and the needs of your community, you might make better life choices that benefit the world.

Finally — and this is a lesson that I’ve learned firsthand — the less money you spend, the more options you have in the new economy. If you don’t have debt, you have the freedom to say no when employers make unreasonable requests of you. You also have the freedom to pursue your own dreams and potentially change the future of work for someone else.

The next time you meet someone who’s an expert in the future of work, remember that he’s probably no more accurate than psychics on late night TV. After they’re done telling you about how technology and automation will allow you to focus on more strategic tasks at work, ask them for tonight’s lottery numbers.

The odds are likely that the lottery numbers will be more accurate than work-related predictions.

6 Responses to The Future of Work
  1. Some Random Guy

    I can see my future work demise quite clearly, Laurie. I saw it coming and couldn’t evade it. I’m right in the middle of it as a senior (60 y/o) long-term unemployed worker. It looks and feels much like a Borg attack. (Love your Star Trek reference, BTW). I have no reasonable options left. I already have a semi-recent (2003) BS degree in Technical Writing which I’m still paying for 13 years later. I’m a voracious reader, both in hardcopy and online. But no one is interested. Employers seem to be more interested in finding the “purple squirrel” than hiring people like me.

    It looks to me that the future of work for most people is (if they are lucky) they will slowly be “gigged” to death trying to survive between gigs. Most of the gig workers I’ve talked to say that as more people have entered that arena, the wages are falling. It’s almost impossible to save between gigs. Welcome to wage slavery, indentured work, the gig economy, whatever you care to call it.

  2. Scot Herrick

    Amen, Laurie.

  3. Genxpert

    I’m counting the days until I can go to assisting living with my friends. I’m thinking Motley Crue’s Doctor feel good on the CD player and a keg of Bud.

  4. Jenrc

    She’s baaaaaaack! Good one, LFR. This subject has been haunting me for about 5 years now. How do I stay ahead of this demise and still put food & healthcare on the table for my family? Work is work, that’s why it’s not called play, but it is so awful. This is how the Cheeto got elected. Quite honestly I’m as pessimistic and should be a follower of this democratic bowel movement. But I have education, empathy and ultimately a belief that the good person always wins. In work or in life.

  5. Rick

    As ever, Laurie, you have captured my own thoughts eloquently and succinctly. For some reason, no one ever wants to say these things, but they are worthy of saying. Bit like the Jerry Maquire mission statement. Thanks for continuing to — as the kids say — speak your truth.

  6. Laura

    Wow, well said. There are many ‘experts’ out there but the reality is that the future of work is unpredictable.