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.