Tales of Future Past v2

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Future Living

In the 1960s the odds on favourite as to what life would be like in the 21st century could be summed up in one word: leisure.  

Many perfectly sober thinkers believed that the rising tide of automation, computerisation, robotics, efficiency, modern management techniques, atomic power, instant communications and all that would so improve productivity, cut the need for labour, and create so much real wealth that people would not need to work so much.

Indeed, Arthur C. Clarke went so far as to say that technology would eliminate the 99% of all human labour from the lowliest ditch digger to the highest executive. Most people wouldn't need to work much, if at all, and those who did would be restricted by law to only a few days a week and be expected to retire by age 47.

But this wasn't regarded as looking forward to a future of peace and plenty; it was regarded as a serious social problem that had to be solved before it was too late. If by the year 2000 only philosopher kings, sorry, scientists, would be allowed to work full time, then the rest of the population would be left with little to do except watch five hundred channels of television and listen to he robot lawnmower cutting the grass.  

Since, it was argued, only a small percentage of people are able to keep themselves occupied solely by their own devices, most people would quickly tire of crosswords, sex, and Brockian Ultra-Cricket and they'll probably begin to sink into apathy and decadence.   That is one reason why unemployment and the dole is so soul destroying and why actors, who are unemployed most of the time even if they are successful, end up becoming so bizarre and self-destructive. Something would have to be done if the human race was to avoid being bored to death. Some suggested a new profession of leisure counsellors, others new drugs.  

Arthur C. Clarke recommended universal education throughout life using the latest in teaching machines, psychological techniques, and even "consciousness-expanding" drugs.  Clarke had a very rosy view of the attractions of the classroom that many people probably didn't share, but he felt that the key to keeping the leisure society together was by as many people as possible working their whole live keeping up with the sciences and earning postgraduate degree after postgraduate degree until the world resembled a high tech version of the College of All Souls.

Given the appalling state of real 21st century schools and the disintegration of our universities into reservations for leftist refugees, perhaps it's for the best that we don't force the people back into them. But what is truly remarkable is that the very things that people expected to produce the leisure society prevented it from happening. Their mistake was in thinking that productivity is a static thing and that beyond a certain point workers will find themselves with less and less to do.  In fact, productivity can keep expanding and diversifying indefinitely so that workers don't work less, they just produce more.

Take the simple case of this web site. If I was doing the equivalent of what I do here back in the 1960s, say self-publishing a small monthly magazine, I would have needed a fairly large staff of secretaries, researchers, printers, draughtsmen, typesetters, photographers, editors, proofreaders, salesmen, deliverymen, and general dogsbodies to get each issue out.  Now, thanks to modern technology, I can do all of that on my lonesome.    

Does that mean that I am now a man of leisure?  Does it hell. It means that I'm doing everyone else's job and I'm up until all hours banging out copy, designing pages, editing images, tweaking code, and... you get the idea.

Hand me any more labour saving devices and I might have to give up sleep.

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