[ Note from 2-17-2014I normally don’t run posts this close together, but someone here mentioned that the left actually believe automation and stuff have made most of the population redundant. I’ve been coming across this on the left AND right. The thing is, I remember the seventies and JUST this kind of talk about how we’d outgrown work. Then Carter was voted out and we had the eighties.
Of course, in the seventies NO ONE became crazy enough to brag that people were being freed from work. They REALLY believe this. They believe the economy could just continue trucking on without any humans worked. It’s stunning in its craziness. And yet, they believe it.
Maybe it’s true for them. Maybe they can stop working and not suffer for it. Or maybe they wish they could. I don’t know. What I know is that for normal human beings, new technology just brings different ways to work. Work doesn’t stop.
And I know what butthurt people who drink their own ink and don’t know what to do about the economy but are still so convinced they’re so smart will come up with to justify their own failings. “We’re not going to need to work anymore” and “people will be freed from work” is the semantic null equivalent of “Americans are ungovernable.” It should ALWAYS be assumed to be a declaration of incompetence from the current leeches.*
*No impugning of real leeches, like the ones that son keeps in a bell jar, and upon which on receiving the last royalty statement I was NOT allowed to slap a sign saying “Penguin Putnam Accounting Department” — because the guys said that would be mean.]
When we moved to Colorado Springs, the greatest part of choosing our location in town was that there were three bookstores within walking distance. Practically the only way to insure I get exercise.
Now those three bookstores are gone. There are a lot of bars and restaurants, but well… we are mini-galting (we need a logo for this) and therefore not eating out much, and bars… If I drank as much as I do NOT at home (or friends’ homes) but pay-per-drink, I’d be even more broke than I am.
The reasons we chose to live where we live are all gone – in less than ten years.
Then there’s my household arrangements. We have so many books that I started culling into bins for eventual garage sale, about two years ago. But I never finished the culling, and then act-of-kids intervened, and we bought more books, which means yesterday when I went in search of a book to check on a reference, I found instead that my bookshelves have got completely scrambled. There’s all sorts of stuff in every bookshelf, nothing is in order, and the bookshelf on the way to the attic has become a convenient place for the guys to unload and/or store stuff they don’t want in their area. The end result is that nothing is “findable” and everything is a total mess.
Which brings me to – I started reshelving. And realized about half the mysteries taking up space on my shelves aren’t the sort I keep. Heck, some of them might never have been read.
You see, every month or so, I’d take a trip to the local used bookstore and get a load of mysteries, read them, put the ones I didn’t care for back in for trade, and keep the ones I was likely to read more than once. Then, once every six months we went to the BIG mystery bookstore in Denver (first day of a weekend away) and I’d fill three, sometimes four large bags with used paperbacks, read them during that weekend and the month after, then cull.
But sometime – four? – years ago, we got me a kindle, and then the trip to the bookstore wasn’t needed, and I think I forgot to read some of the books from the last one, as well as whatever books I’d got that month.
What do I mean by all this? I mean that technology is changing the rhythms of how we do things, in ways that aren’t even obvious until we look back.
I did not know that last time we went by the used bookstore at the beginning of a weekend in Denver that it would be the last time. I still bought the usual books. I just ended up reading some stuff I had on the kindle, instead. And when the next vacation came around, I had the kindle, and buying a bunch of used books seemed stupid. I don’t think I’ve stepped into that bookstore since.
The rhythms change.
When we moved here, I walked downtown a lot, to buy books, or – more often – to browse books. I used to take a laptop and sit by the fireplace in my favorite bookstore and write, while people watching.
The store is gone. Downtown’s character has changed too. There are fewer stores people shop at, so well, during the day it’s office workers and vagrants. In the less populated area, it’s now a little iffy, if not dangerous (yet.)
We do the things that benefit us (in my case ordering more from Amazon) and other people do the things that benefit them. And the entire landscape changes.
I’m not arguing otherwise. I’m convinced things like “Save the indies” for keeping bookstores alive are in the end doomed and in the short term counterproductive. They’ll either find a value-add to give people, or they will ultimately fail. (I’d pay for a sort of in-person book café, with knowledgeable owners who can recommend books I might like, and who have space for writers’ and readers’ groups to meet, but I don’t know how practical it is, unless in a very large city.)
I’m just saying no one can see the future, even as it’s barreling down towards us. Which is why any centralized planning tends to fail and any push-down (as opposed to pull down at will) business model tends to fail, and the bigger and more impersonal it is, the faster it fails. And why the government subsidizing innovation usually means subsidizing things that real life ebbs and flows around.
I read, I don’t remember where, that the reason our government (to an extent both parties) is pushing for a welfare state that controls everything is that they believe in a future where humans really have nothing to do – where robots do it all. They all – apparently – read “With Folded Hands” and thought it was inevitable.
But even we, science fiction authors, infallible though we are (of course) get things wrong. Heinlein never saw computers barreling down the pipe. Well, not in the form they came. Which means my kids get to chuckle at slide rules in spaceships.
And the thing about robots doing everything for humans, and therefore there being no work for people, and therefore the government must step in and give people a raison d’etre and, if possible thin down the population.
This would be like someone in the nineteenth century seeing our civilization and going “We must create a vast welfare state for all the scullery maids put out of work by dishwashers and all the drivers put out of work by the horseless carriages. And that’s not talking about the people who shoe horses and the crossing sweepers. Doom, gloom, most of humanity will be useless and only the state can save us.”
It’s a serious under-rating of humanity. We are clever monkeys. We’ll find new things to do when the old drudgery is lifted.
Yes, some people will end up doing nothing – but I think that has more to do with learned helplessness and does not need to be subsidized.
I’m laying you a bet that a hundred years from now there will be jobs we don’t even imagine, and they’ll be all across the IQ and aptitude spectrum. (We don’t need drivers, or maids, but I pay money for people to haul stuff to the dump. And we still need gardeners and sidewalk sweepers.) I’m also betting you that the jobs will in general be less onerous/filled with drudgery and far more interesting.
Am I sure – well, no. And I’m unlikely (though it’s not impossible) to be alive 100 years from now (unless there’s really reincarnation) to pay or collect.
But I’ve seen where we’ve come from, and I know the trend. I know the way to bet.
I don’t think robots will stop us inventing new work to do, or new ways of making a living.
The government, on the other hand, might – by killing incentive and curiosity and draining away the capital (human and financial) that could go towards innovation.
Refuse to live with folded hands. Trust humanity. Embrace the future.