A fair while ago, famous YouTube smart person and probable good guy CGP Grey released a an incredibly in-depth and still-relevant video on the topic of automation and the changing workplace culture from human-dominated to machine-dominated. It’s an excellent piece and should be required watching in high schools, university lectures, and parliament and senate halls around the world.
One retort that’s commonly heard when one brings the topic of total work automation is the question of what humans would do with their time if machines negated the need for human work for our society to function. Commonly “If robots and A.I. can do every job, then what would people do all day?”
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The basic idea is that, without the requirement of work, people would have nothing to do and boredom would ensue. Lets get real and call this idea what it is; a jaded and depressing worldview that comes from the mind of a sad individual that has known nothing but work, has no real hobbies outside of work, and knows so little of themselves that they have trouble finding something to do with their time without a crappy job to occupy the majority of it.
I sadly know people like this. A friend of mine, on university break, as we speak, “can’t wait to get back to uni” because “"she’s getting bored”. She enjoys that her time that is taken up by study, as well as (presumably) the education and fulfillment that comes with study. Even though study can be different from work, the fundamental similarity is that both fill your time with structure, and objectives to fulfil. So the question here is not “what will humans do all day if not for the need to work?” but rather “why do some people need school and work in order to feel fulfilled?”. Bang. Double-loop learning.
If you find something enjoyable, why not do it on your own time instead of waiting until you’re made to do it? My friend likes study and learning, so why wait until university is in session to enjoy it? Why be bored on break when it’s quite possible to effectively learn on your own time if you enjoy it? If you enjoy building things, why is it necessary to have a job in order to be able to do that? If the act of doing something is its own reward, then it makes little sense that it can’t be done during leisure time.
That sounds good, but for a lot of people, their work isn’t something that they would do without being paid. I imagine that endlessly crunching numbers, or poring through hundreds of pages of dry legal text, isn’t most people’s idea of fun.
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Work that people get paid for is not always enjoyable. However, it is not the only activity available to occupy someone’s time. Non-work enjoyment is important as well, and if we do transition to a society where the need for humans to work does not exist, as the video discusses and as seems likely, then being able to occupy one’s own time will be critical. As much as it seems as such, work does not exist to occupy time. It exists because someone needs something to be done. Once a robot or an A.I. exists to perform that task, there is no more need for the worker, who must therefore find other ways of occupying their time. There is more to life than work and all it takes is a willingness to experiment and find something you like, whether it is reading, writing, or catching butterflies with a net.
It does not matter what, as long as you like it, and it won’t only be important in the future that CGP Grey describes, but it’s also important for a balanced life right now. Imagine a life where someone comes home from working and their only activity is to wait to be able to go to work again. Doesn't sound like much of a life to me.