Did anyone read this NY Times article “A World Without Work”? You could come away with a few different impressions, but I thought the conversation in comments that followed was very thought provoking. The theory that we could draw parallels between current employment trends to a 19th Century Utopian vision where people worked less has its obvious flaws (and the line about the rich working longer hours and the unemployed patching together various means to scrape by speaks more about income inequality than who gets to enjoy more leisure hours), but what was most interesting was this notion that this future of no work is “a basic reality of 21st-century American life”.
Unemployment stats aside, the decline of jobs from automation and outsourcing, and the fact that many Americans are being squeezed into more productivity often to compensate for a downsized workforce, lead me to think that some kind of post-employment era isn’t that far off base. It’s a pretty big statement, no? And then when I try to imagine what the world is going to be like when my kids grow to be adults…well, it makes me wonder (worry) all kinds of things about the future. The world is changing – it has been changing all along – but the recession and the technology-driven evolution of certain industries certainly has made us more aware of it.
I thought this article about the Brooklyn band, Grizzly Bear, in NY Magazine, was a good read on the music industry today and what it means to be an indie band in 2013. We all know that the industry has changed and musicians don’t make money selling records anymore. Their earnings come primarily from touring and licensing music (why do you think that every band that has ever existed and is still living is back on tour?). So is a successful indie band from 2013 making the same living as one from 1992? It seems not. As I was walking down Broadway the other day, I thought about the stores that I used to go to when I was a kid, Tower Records being one of them. Do you remember how big a deal it was to go to your favorite record store to pick up that new album from your favorite band? (record/Cassette/CD – you name your era. I’m old enough to have lived through all 3). I don’t know if kids who could just download music instantly today would even understand that experience. It took a lot more work to listen to music back then (ok, maybe just a subway token and a ride), but the experience of going to a store to browse through bins and bins of records and CDs and walking away with a physical package of the music in your hands is all but gone. It was such a huge part of our adolescence, but we just don’t buy music like that anymore. Is publishing not that far behind?
I don’t believe that creativity or ideas will be outsourced and replaced, but the means to execute these ideas might and some tasks won’t need humans at all anymore. It’s already happened and I even see it in my industry as design budgets get smaller and I have to hustle for more projects a year just to compensate. I’m also realizing that what I’ve been doing the last few years to a certain extent, is trying to position ourselves so that we could become a bit more adaptable in our respective industries. I think in this economy, you have to be in order to survive. I’m not completely confident that what I do for a living now in this particular capacity is how I’ll be making a living 10 years from now. It may not be by choice. So what does the future hold when we no longer need manual labor and these jobs continue to disappear? When the pool of qualified applicants outnumber the jobs that are available? But isn’t that future now? We definitely live in interesting times…