As computer software and hardware become more sophisticated more and more companies are using robots and machines for routine tasks. As a result, many commentators have been wondering what the future of work will look like. Researchers at Oxford university have predicted that 40% of jobs will be automated by 2030, and global consulting company McKinsey reported that as many as 45% of the activities that individuals are paid to perform can be automated by technologies that have already been developed.
It’s not just the robots that could take our jobs. A shrinking of the global economy – either in a degrowth scenario (which I talk about in this article) or a global upheaval due to having reached planetary limits – could also create unemployment. But unemployment is not necessarily a bad thing, as I am going to try to show.
There is currently a stigma attached to being unemployed, especially if the primary breadwinner of a family is out of a job. Yet unemployed people, while they are not actually looking for work, are usually involved in some task – whether it is housework, childcare, DIY, doing a course or engaging in a hobby. Very few people I know actually enjoy being idle. Most people will tend to use their free time to do something they enjoy, for example, doing a course, reading or research, a project they’ve been putting off, getting fit, learning how to cook, etc. At the end of this article I’ve made a long list of activities that people can do with their free time.
There are also large sections of society – mainly women – who are not in paid work but nonetheless perform duties like childcare, care for the elderly and voluntary work. Added to that is the cohort of retired people. One fifth of Americans will be over the age of 65 by 2030, and probably retired. Retired people do continue to participate in the economy (as consumers) and in society – be it as volunteers, helping with grandchildren or in other ways. In addition there are many people who cannot take up full time employment due to education – either attending a university or completing a course.
To regard the unemployed and those in unpaid work as somehow being of lesser value in society is very blinkered. These people carry out a very important function and should be praised. Where would we be without all the charities who do amazing work for humans, animals and the environment? None of them could exist without the work done by volunteers, and having free time is essential if people are to contribute to society in this way. Or the grandparents who help with child minding, or those who have gone back to education to gain new skills in the constantly changing world of work?
The idea of a basic income has been proposed as a measure to support those who are unemployed while at the same time creating a sense of equality throughout society and removing the unemployment stigma. The idea is that everyone – including those in paid work – receive a basic payment. This would be equivalent to unemployment benefit, but would no longer be termed as such. This would have the effect of normalizing unemployment and making it more acceptable. Anyone who wishes to leave their current job would be confident that they would be able to fall back on their basic payment, so it also removes the fear of being out of work.
Universal health care would be another measure that could be introduced in order to create a more equal society that is not so dependent on paid work.
A new world
Rohit Talwar, chief executive at Fast Future believes we may be seeing the beginning of the end of jobs as the primary means of feeding our families.
Freed up from the nine-to-five slog, we will be able to engage in creative pursuits, focus on compassion and social skills, and discard the pursuit of materialistic wealth in favour of more meaningful things like concern for the environment, animals and each other.
The potential for us to create a better, more peaceful, more compassionate world is enormous. We may even be able to use AI to solve world hunger, as well as other problems.
If you are someone who loves your job, you’re probably one of the lucky ones. Most people would probably say their job is simply a means to an end – it pays the bills.
Many people who are in high paying high stress jobs find it difficult to deal with leisure time, simply because they have become so used to working in the way they do that it has almost become an addiction. They have a fear of boredom and may never have had an opportunity to engage in other more meaningful pursuits. Nowadays, it’s almost seen as a badge of honour to work long hours. Feeding into this is the toxic culture of ‘busyness’ whereby if you are incredibly busy then you must be a more important, more worthwhile person.
Many people are so tied into the work culture that they don’t even take the time off that they’re entitled to. Researchers found that only 14% of Americans take two weeks’ vacation in a row, and in 2017 54% of American workers didn’t use up their vacation time, leaving 662 million days reserved for leisure unused.
Leisure does not mean we sit around doing nothing – it simply means we are now free to determine what we do with our time, when we don’t have to turn up to a job every day.
Raising human consciousness
The Greek philosopher Aristotle saw leisure as the goal of all human behavior. He saw leisure as ‘necessary for the cultivation of mind, spirit and character’. French sociologist Joffre Dumazedier believes that there will be a time when personal growth, not working for a living, will be life’s primary motivator.
In 1943 the American psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote a paper in which he proposed that all humans have a hierarchy of needs, with food, water and shelter at the bottom, and self-actualisation at the top. His theory is popular to this day and is widely utilized in psychology and sociology circles. Maslow’s ‘needs pyramid’ (below) illustrates that once our basic needs are met we are then free to pursue self-development goals so that we reach our full potential as human beings. These may involve the pursuit of knowledge, artistic endeavours, research, spiritual quests, physical or sporting pursuits, and so forth.
In order for humanity to evolve as a species, leisure time is essential. Time for reflection – on ourselves and on humanity globally – is necessary if we are to make any progress towards peace, equality and happiness on our planet. As the saying goes, ‘you must be the change you wish to see in the world’, so in order to change the world we must first change ourselves.
There are endless possibilities when it comes to leisure time. Below I have listed only a few:
Family, Friends and Community:
- More time with children, partner, family and pets.
- More time with friends, social life, groups, meetups, events, community.
- Local community – meeting, getting to know each other, helping neighbours.
- Joining a club.
- Voluntary work – charities, causes, demonstrations, sharing skills.
- Sports, taking exercise, joining a gym.
- Spending time in nature – walking, hiking, going to the beach or forest.
- Cooking – learning how to cook and prepare food from scratch.
- Healthy diet.
- Practising zero waste.
- Growing your own food.
- Learn a new language, take up a new subject.
- Enrol on a college or online course.
- More time for reading.
Follow your passion:
- Working on a pet project.
- Start a new business or new project.
- Spend time on a favourite hobby or interest.
Arts and creativity:
- Arts and crafts.
- Music, theatre, literature and the arts.
- Write a book.
- Learn how to play an instrument.
- Movies and Theatres.
- Bowling and Entertainment complexes.
- Fun parks and theme parks.
- Meditation and Yoga.
- Self-actualisation – discovering your talents and passions and having the time to develop them.
- Personal growth can involve any or all of the examples above, it may also include working on yourself in order to break habits such as anger, negative thinking, improving your diet or exercise regime, developing equanimity and resilience in the face of life’s challenges, or working on anything in your life that needs attention.
Leisure time is not something to be feared or deprecated – on the contrary, it should be a goal. It does not correspond to idleness, as human beings almost always try to avoid boredom and tend to seek out interesting or worthwhile things to do. If you were to ask yourself ‘what is the ultimate goal of human life’, I think most people would say it was happiness, love, fulfilment, contentment, the eradication of diseases, hunger and poverty, an appreciation of nature and stewardship of the environment. I genuinely believe we could achieve most or all of these things if we just had more leisure time.