Recently I asked this question on Twitter because I was inspired by some of the arguments presented in Daniel Susskind’s new book, A World Without Work. I’ll have a video review of this available soon as I am still collecting notes and also asking questions to others about this.
In the book, he argues that the world of work as we know it will change.
It won’t change tomorrow but he forecasts, in a matter of decades where our work hours will reduce because by the rate we are going, machines are not just complementing the work that humans do but they will substitute for them in time. This will create some challenges in our world so it was interesting to read arguments for and against for what a world without work would look like and if indeed, we have means and ways to deal with it.
What’s the Meaning of Work?
In the end of the book, he asks about meaning.
What is the meaning or purpose of work? Why have some put work as the ‘thing’ we derive meaning from in recent years? In the past, he reasons, it was religion but now it seems our identity seems to be tied to our work.
It’s a bit contrarian to how I’ve always thought about work – indeed grew up about the notion of work. To me, work was simply something I had to do to get some money to do the stuff I really wanted to do.
I think the way I think about work came from my childhood where we were constantly told that we shouldn’t make work (“working for the man”) as our entire raison d’etre. Of course, my parents are creative people – artists, makers, crafters, experimenters….growing up in a household where what you read, created, listened to, made was far more appreciated and acknowledged than the job you held down, the money you made or the ‘things’ you accrued such as cars, houses, ‘bling’.
In some way, we were totally opposite to other Greek households where the parents – migrants to the country – worked all hours of the day and night, didn’t learn English or assimilate into the Australian lifestyle. Quite the opposite, we grew up in the roughest pubs in Melbourne, my dad was fluent in English and Spanish as he was the publican during the day, artist by night, he learned how to play classical and flamenco guitar; we talked politics, art, philosophy, history at the dinner table (taboo subjects elsewhere) and also expected to hold our own in some heavy arguments. We were expected to be well-read. So I guess my background also shaped me for who I am today and how I think about “work”.
For me “work” per se is something that I do to help others and share my skills and knowledge to the community. I enjoy the work and it provides me meaning only when it is reciprocated in some way and usually this is through acknowledgement and respect for what I bring to the role. I love the idea of work being a team and how we can all shape and create this work together. However, it’s not the ONLY thing that gives me meaning.
Sometimes, work is just what you need to do to pay bills. Nothing more, nothing less. When I had work that was meaningless to me, usually it was what I did OUTSIDE it that was far more interesting and gave me purpose such as my volunteer work or leisure and family activities. I always had my finger in a pie somewhere. Work in that case were just the hours I filled from 9 to 5.
I thought that people would answer with any of the following:
- Still do what they’re doing but for free or reduce the hours – but provide it to free to some not-for-profit or volunteer organisation
- Reskill, retrain, go back to school to be a continual learner
- Retrain into a completely different field (with an emphasis towards manual or creative endeavours)
- Incorporate some of their additional skills (that we don’t know about people) with some experience eg travelling, saving the environment, activism
It was interesting to read the responses as they came in to my question and pretty much, they all aligned to one or all of the above.
What Would I Do?
In some weird way, I think my life today reflects how I want my life in the future to be like. I reduced my working hours to 3 days a week so that I can spend the other 2 on my leisure activities, writing, reading, making videos, travelling, doing various experiences. However, what would I do if I had to go 5 days a week?
This year, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect about the next 5 years or so where I am planning to retire early.
What will I do in that time instead? What will give me purpose and meaning?
I’d like to think that for me, overseas experiences through extensive travel that incorporate learning history will feature in my life. Think of things like learning a language in a country by living there for some extended term; or learning specific knitting techniques off the islands of Scotland; or visiting the art galleries and museums of one European city for an extended period; that’s the stuff I’m thinking about.
Other times, I think that I’d like to volunteer at a local high school and teach the kids how to knit (or bring back the artisan crafts that are slowly disappearing from this work are learned and revisited). Alternatively I can help kids to build their ‘Learning Biography’ or ‘Learning CV‘ much like what I have built here and on YouTube – a learning portfolio of their entire work and life’s projects that will help them capture their learning.
Another thing that has captured my imagination is to requalify or skill up in a completely new field such as librarianship or even volunteer at a library.
Other times I think that I’d like to be an architect (too hard I know – I don’t like the idea of creating a new house – instead, I want to specialise in the HISTORY of buildings and the stories within them) and then be a tour guide around Melbourne sharing interesting stories about these buildings and who lived in them.
Other times I want to create a film to capture all the stories of my local neighbourhood of people who have lived and worked here so I can create something that can be used as an archive of local storytelling and people before the areas are all gentrified and taken over by ugly apartment blocks. Alas, my best friend Mary who was a film maker passed away from an aggressive cancer a couple of years ago when we were planning to do this project together. It would have been a blast to have worked on this with her.
So thinking about what gives me purpose and meaning stems from what I can do to serve a community or to create some kind of legacy back into my community – with the themes around:
There you have it. If money was no object, what would give you meaning? How would you derive meaning a world with little to no work as we know it. What would you do instead with your time?