What is work, anyways? Just as our streets have gone quiet and wildlife have started to return to areas they had long since abandoned, the worldwide near-shutdown of the economy is providing an interesting glimpse into what constitutes work in this early part of the 21st century. I even read today that seismologists are having a field day with all the quiet - the vibrations in the Earth’s crust that are normally muddied by human terrestrial activity have subsided to such a great extent that they’re now able to more easily get more information from the noise-free data obtained from their hypersensitive seismic sensors.
With unemployment applications skyrocketing in the US, one can’t help but wonder what were all these people doing, and why is their work now considered non-essential? The service economy or knowledge economy that we’ve built consists of workers who are not making things, but manipulating symbols and information in ways that create value. Or they’re providing non-essential services for those who do the symbol manipulation. Hairdressers, dentists, food service staff, live entertainers and events staff - without the symbol manipulators, their jobs either wouldn’t exist at all or would exist in smaller numbers.
What do you make of this? What are the implications for the future of work?? How much of this “non-essential” work could be automated? Or perhaps, more important, how much of the symbol manipulation work could be - or will be soon - automated? Should it be? What will we gain? What will we lose?
This whole thought just popped out as I was watching the news this evening. I find myself fascinated by watching what is happening as it unfolds. It certainly is not the happiest of times, that’s for sure. But it certainly is a unique opportunity to observe the world we’ve created for ourselves in the unusual light of extreme, universal duress.
Hope you’re keeping healthy and staying optimistic.
Tom Short Consulting