Recently, The World Post hosted its 'Future of Work' conference in London, drawing on academics and industry-leaders from a range of disciplines and sectors to provide an insight into the changes in modern-day work, and what it is destined to look like in the future. As a result, a number of articles were posted in The World Post commenting on the various ideas presented at the conference, including one called 'The Future of Work is 100% Human' by Jean Oelwang and Benjamin Hay.
If the future of work is 100% human, is that a good thing? Or is it a wake-up call that the trajectory of our conditions of existence are slowly slipping out of our control?
The article makes the case for business that is centred on the human experience. It explains how businesses that put the happiness and wellbeing of their employees at the forefront of their business plan, will see improvements in their working environments and profit margins whilst at the same time appeasing our most human of desires as employees. The authors argue that "Work can deliver positive connections and companies that treat people like a family rather than "headcount" are realizing the benefits to their bottom line." The greater integration of work into life as we know it is, for these authors, the crowning achievement of modern-day capitalism, and the picture they paint is at first glance, a pleasant one.
But as human beings, what we must ask ourselves is do we actually want work to become an integrated part of our everyday human experience? Do we really want to live lives in which the boundaries between where our shifts end and non-work time begins, become blurred beyond distinction? Is work really going to be our defining act as human beings? Indeed, the future of work is set to be 100% human; and what a shame that is.
Away from the utopian visions of dream jobs that exist in the offices of companies like Google (fitted out with slides, bean bags and other playground-esque furniture), how does the experience of the working human look for the majority? The reality for most of us, comes in the form of minimum-wage jobs that still demand the very highest standard of human engagement with our work. We are trained to use our inner-most emotions to force smiles and fain interest in the desires and wants of clientele. Contemporary experiences of work are no longer characterised by the closed-ended idea of a job or occupation, but by the life-long journey embodied in a career. Workplaces across the country are filled not with workers, but with crew members, baristas, hoteliers and advisors.
We are made to forget that our work is a means of survival, and make work the very objective of survival itself. We cannot resist work; because in the same breath, we are forced to resist life itself. The activity of work will continue to be 100% human, in that it demands control of 100% of our humanity.
So are we actually free to imagine a world like Appletree Answers' 'Shared Dreams' as described in the article, or are we in fact doomed to be faced with a shared vulnerability to the forces of work in every aspect of our human lives?
At the 'Future of Work' conference, MIT Director Andrew McAfee demonstrated how at the advent of the steam engine in Britain during the 1800s, wages started to rise consistently with population numbers for the first time in our history. But the advent of the steam engine was also important for another reason, in that humans were usurped from their seat as the commanders of work. As Naomi Klein explains in her latest book This Changes Everything, the birth of the industrial revolution, and its use of coal (and as a result, steam) represented "total domination, of both nature and other people" by capitalism. Humans, therefore, fell into the category of 'mass' collectively vulnerable and constantly available for ready exploitation by business.
When it is said that the future of work will be 100% human, it does not mean that the human being will champion work. Rather, it means that like the combustible qualities of fossil fuels, the humanity of human beings will be the fuel in the fire of advanced capitalism. It will rely on the overriding consumption of our emotions, our ability to put the customer first, to partake in humiliating 'team-building' activities and our propensity to internalise our work as a defining factor of our being. In turn, this will see the creation of a human workforce that is self-exploiting on a level that has never been seen before. This is the reality of a future of work that is 100% human.
There are a number of questions we must ask of our economy. In a world containing ground-breaking technology and an ability to effortlessly circumvent humans in our time outside of work (for example, modern-day communication alleviates us of the burden of human conversation), why is it still left to the human being to participate in work? Why is the crushing activity of daily toil - toil that now demands much greater control of human minds and emotions, rather than muscle - still the prerogative of human beings? Instead of working to ensure that business relies 100% on the human, why not use the effort to free humans from it?
A future of work that is 100% human does not present us with a dream of shared happiness under the banner of work; it presents us with a humiliating hell of forced emotion and caricatured interaction, extracted for profit, and enforced for our own good.