Work as a place for creativity and self-development
If robots took care of most of the material production and menial jobs, work done by humans would fundamentally change its nature by moving towards immaterial needs – such as creativity and belonging. Instead of material needs, such work would satisfy first and foremost those of self-actualisation and self-expression. In an ideal situation work would be meaningful, creative, and purposeful, and a source of experiences and self-development. It would allow constant learning, and tasks would be modified as one develops. No sharp division between work and leisure would exist, and a person would be seen as an individual and a human being also when he or she is working, instead of a cog in the wheel.
Creative work of self-development would be built from the bottom-up. Management would be replaced by self-management. Workers would be internally motivated, and the role of managers would be to help workers reaching their potential and personal goals. Companies’ values would reflect those of their workers, not vice versa. Like individuals, enterprises would pursue other goals than profits only. Companies would be partly freed from the requirements of the market, as new kinds of “free enterprises”. Instead of being seen as contradictory, doing good and making a profit would merge. Businesses would be more like adventurous test labs and condensations of intellectual, social, and economic resources, rather than profit-maximising entities of today.
Work in such companies would require workers to self-define their jobs. Only then could work correspond with citizen’s personality, gifts and interests. This implies that supply creates demand, not the other way around. Production according to demand would not be truly independent. Instead, people would do their “own thing” manifesting their personality, and trust that resulting “authentic” products would find their markets. A pivotal skill in this kind of a world would be to “find one’s thing”. However, those unable to self-define their work could easily be marginalised.
Although the kind of work described above seems highly individualised, its most fundamental feature would not be individualisation, but the rise of communities. Individuality and creativity stem from social relations and a shared culture. To maximise their creativity, people would work at the same time independently and with others, learning from each other, and establishing ad hoc teams according to changing needs and preferences. Work would provide experiences not only for oneself, but for one’s acquaintances and communities as well. When everyone does things they do best and express their individuality through work, they also contribute for the common good.
Work and communities
If work became first and foremost self-expression, communities would consequently replace organisations, as they offer better possibilities for individuals to self-define their jobs. The separation between the different spheres of life and the sectors of society would wither away, at least to some degree. Work and leisure, private and public, and an individual and the community would merge together as an organic whole. Individuals and communities would thus become the units of exchange instead of organisations. A traditional work-community would transform into a leisure-like community or a “community of passion”. Work would be done and developed together. Belonging to a community or a company might even be one’s right as a citizen – you are born into, for instance, a community-like start-up.
Producers and consumers would have a shared life world. There would be a personal, creative bond between the provider and the so-called customer. Work would be mutual co-creation between workers and customers. Demand would define supply in much more intricate ways than today.
An artificial intelligence or different algorithms could be enablers for work that is at the same time individualistic and collective. In practice, this could mean for example a platform that connects individuals with the same interest, tastes, goals etc. with each other – enabling, for instance, a community for the curious. Such platforms would allow flexible forms of occupation. At different stages of life an individual could be an employee, an employer, a freelancer, and everything in between, also working flexibly in different industries.
Communities and identity
The kind of “community work” described above would not serve the purposes of production and self-development only, but would also help individuals to construct identities in a meaningful way. In the future, identities, meaning and purpose could be based first and foremost on different communities, and on work done at these communities. Different communities could for instance provide a “personal mission” for individuals, as a basis for a stable and constant identity.
The rise of communities would probably not mean a return to uniform cultures. On the contrary, as citizens would co-create their communities and corresponding identities, culture would become much more diverse than today. Freedom to consume what one wants could transform as freedom to choose one’s way of life. People would not belong to one or a few communities only, but to many different and constantly changing ones. Different media, in turn, could specialise to serve different communities, and identities of individuals and media could enmesh. Media would have their own distinct voices to which different individuals could relate to according to their own tastes, ideas and values.
Once again, a person’s ability to “know thyself” would be emphasised. One’s personality would steer him or her to choose certain communities and influences over others. This assumes that people know what they want from their lives in the first place. Life-coaching could thus become immensely important – life coaches could even transform as “priests of the future”, replacing religious figures by secular spiritual guides.
Regardless of the relative continuity offered by communities, a networked, peer-to-peer world would probably be more chaotic and more in flux than the present world. This could lead to many yearning for stable and tight communities, instead of constantly changing ones. Perhaps most would like to skip between communities, but some could wish to belong to something permanent and clearly bounded. This longing for stability could lead to “bubbles” within which individuals would socialise only with the like-minded and shut the rest of the world outside. Another possibility is that local communities would be replaced by a “global village”, a cosmopolitan identity, or even by some kind of new world religion. A global identity could offer the base on which different micro-identities would be tied together.
If communities were the basic units of new work, the general organisation model for work could be provided by networks. Rigid bureaucracies would be replaced by organic, porous network structures, and different communities would be linked together by interlocking networks. Resources would be shared within networks: workspaces, tools, information, et cetera. Sharing could be global, local and regional. This is because new technologies are so complex and are needed globally, for instance to tackle climate change, that they require global development efforts and global distribution.
Glocal (global and local) networks could mitigate the “sectarian” tendencies of close-knit communities as the structure through which people could swap between different communities. Networks would make communities and collaboration more diverse. Networks would be open, and allow working where, when, how, and with whom one wants. In other words, networks would ensure that individuals retain the freedom to choose for themselves and are not embraced by their communities too dearly. Then again, paradoxically, networks would dissolve stable social structures – such as nation states – and their loss could make people want to belong again to “closed” communities. If networks make societies and boundaries within them more fluid, people may seek emotional shelter from firmly bounded communities. The fact that networks dissolve clearly defined boundaries could be deemed problematic in other ways as well. Because networks would spread virtually everywhere and cover every sphere of life, work and leisure might become inseparable even if people would sometimes prefer keeping them separate.
Networks, sharing, and the common good
If material production was highly automated, people would not have to work as much as today to earn their living – if, for instance, universal basic income guaranteed the basic standards of living. This would create a fertile ground for altruism and sharing. Doing good and working for others could be an alternative to paid labour as a source of meaningful activities.
In a world of sharing and networks, money and other resources might be partly redefined as possessions of the network instead of private property. Furthermore, value would not be understood only as monetary, but as e.g. ethical, aesthetic, and social value as well. The successful ones would want also others to succeed because networks and communities had enabled their success in the first place. Once one has earned enough money, he or she may donate at least some of it away to help others. Networks and communities could also provide a safety net in times of hardship, resembling social arrangements in developing countries, where a person who earns money often finances his or her community. There would be solidarity in networks that seems foreign to traditional notions of competition. Networks would function more on principles of open source than property rights. Growth would be seen as sharing and spreading of capital instead of its private accumulation. In an ideal situation resources would be allocated so that more creative human potential could be harnessed, instead of keeping them in the hands of a few.
A successful entrepreneur would be a kind of a hero, who brings tax income and other value to the society. Such “hero entrepreneurs” would form a nexus around which communities and networks would evolve. Money would not be the main motivation for success, but instead e.g. acquiring deep knowledge and reaching ethical goals. Entrepreneurs of this kind would not focus, for instance, on developing “a new camera app”, but on solving the world’s problems and providing for the common good. The incentives for such efforts would again probably not be material, but for example prestige, social connections, and pure altruism. People would also choose where to work according to values and goals they consider important, not according to monetary compensation.
Situation of this kind would redefine wage. Work would not be seen as means for subsistence but as “general labour” – comprising of all creative acts. Compensation of a more social work would also steer towards more social conceptions. People would seek spiritual and social fulfilment instead of material rewards. To be respected is a basic human need that cannot be satisfied through material compensation. Wage could be, for instance, quantified social status or social capital (social media “likes” as a rudimentary, present example). Belonging to a desirable (work) community and the opportunity for meaningful work could often be a sufficient compensation in itself. People would mostly be involved in tasks they would do voluntarily and out of passion, regardless of payment.
Work could thus be divided in two: half of the time people would work as paid labour, and half of the time in sharing economy and voluntary work. Enterprises could also take part in the sharing economy – the whole economy could at least to some degree be based on bartering, with no monetary transactions. If people had plenty of meaningful activity, they might even not want material things as they do today. A virtuous circle might thereby emerge: when people receive help from others, they also want to give back.
A major question is what should happen so that a post-money world would be possible. What is the path from today to this kind of future? How does economic competition function and how is value created in this kind of world? These questions could be addressed in further studies on the nature and future possibilities of ‘sharing economy’.
The rise of humaneness
An interesting theme in the futures clinique was the simultaneous emphasis and downplaying of the role of technology. Future society was seen not only as digitalised but also as thoroughly technologized. However, technology would be integrated seamlessly into environment so that it would be “discreet” and mostly invisible. Technology would become more independent so that it would work in the background without a need for human intervention. This would free people to interact with each other instead of machines. Furthermore, due to the development of artificial intelligence, technology would transform as less mechanistic and more human-like. Technology would be able to learn by itself and people could communicate with technology in the same way they communicate with each other. Our relationship with technology could thus become more intimate and effortless than today.
As machines would automate many tasks done today by us, humans would be freed to use and develop their human skills, those that machines would not yet possess. “The revolution of robots” could be succeeded by “the revolution of humans”. Creativity and social intelligence would become even more pivotal than today. Emotion, empathy, and interaction would be emphasised. Humans would ask questions, set goals, and invent new needs, and the role of robots would be to help realising these plans. This would be a kind of a technology-assisted “back to nature” future in which humans would cultivate those very attributes that make us human.
Communities, conflicts, and inequality
The emerging automated peer-to-peer future would probably have its own social problems and inequalities. If the economy, for instance, was built strongly on start-ups, people would have a low entry point to start their own business or to join a fledgling company. This could mitigate unemployment and distribute wellbeing in an equal way. However, the system could be harsh on those who do not assimilate in the start-up culture requiring “successful” and high-performing individuals. If an individual was for any reason unable to succeed, he or she might easily become marginalised. Furthermore, in a society revolving around start-ups and other “community companies”, the companies provide a community, and communities are often the way into the companies – it is a chicken-or-egg situation where those outside start-ups and other companies would be in an inferior position to become members of a thriving community.
Unequal positions apply to communities as well. In the future of multitudes of groups one belongs to, people may not be in unequal positions as individuals but according to their communities. Competition between communities may intensify in a world of free information flows and global competition. Specialisation would thus become even more crucial than today, requiring communities to hone their skills as better than other communities.
Specialisation requires the division of labour. If the division of labour proceeds, society would become more plural than today. Tastes, ideas, and values would become more progressively diversified. A peer-to-peer society would thus be more fragmented than today. However, in such a society people would be more dependent of each other as well. The more communities, companies, and networks specialise, the more they need to exchange products and services. This creates “organic solidarity” that binds the fragmented society together.
Despite co-dependency, a fragmented society might pose new societal challenges. If the world is divided into numerous networks and communities, can a consensus on how society should work be achieved? Tribes enabled by social media may erode the role of industrial institutions, such as the judicial system and the mass media. People have forgotten “the dark” side of communities and tribes, such as sectarian narrow-mindedness and unfairness towards other communities or tribes. A positive future in this respect could be a fusion of “traditional” communities or tribes and modern institutions, combining the best elements from both.
As a result of a shattered public sphere, expert knowledge and authorities can lose their power and status. Each community and network could have their own notions, knowledge, and morals. Traditional media as gatekeepers and definers of the truth would be subverted by individuals communicating with each other directly. Disinformation might spread more rapidly and have various adverse effects. Some groups might even seek to dominate others, for instance by using means of information warfare or by programming malevolent robots.
In a world of material and energy abundance the current competition of economic status might become meaningless. This, however, does not mean that competition will vanish. Perhaps people would compete on cultural and social capital? Those with the most refined taste and best social relations would be the new elite. Success requires that one is autonomous, active, and self-imposed – is able to manage one’s life, understands what he or she wants, and knows one’s strengths. Those with the most knowledge – including knowledge about oneself – would thrive the best. This applies to communities as well as individuals. Social and cultural inequality can also manifest itself as “qualitative unemployment” in the sense that the not-so-well-off would have to work in jobs that do not allow self-expression and satisfying other “higher” needs.
People often seek emotional security from tight communities. If the world becomes increasingly chaotic and insecure due to fragmentation of culture and values, religious fanaticism can become alluring for many. Fundamental religious views could offer a solid, unchallenged base on which to build one’s life. A less radical alternative is the rise of “gurus”, religious or otherwise. In economic communities, for instance, a charismatic character may become the centre around which the community revolves and develops. Besides economic security, people would seek emotional security from such persons. Thus, in practice power may not be as evenly distributed, as people today tend to think of grassroots organisations.