Work Vs Fun
Underneath the endless fears that "technology is going to kill all our jobs," there's a paradox. Most jobs suck. Cashier clerking, construction work, insurance sales - at first blush, these jobs and countless others are hard, often repetitive, and not inherently meaningful. So far so good: If automation frees people from work they don't want to do, that seems perfectly fine. But most people become less happy when they lose their job. Their life satisfaction declines, in a lasting way. Avoiding that is a pretty good motivation for people to keep their jobs.
Here's the twist. Cristobal Young at Stanford argues that free time is only enjoyable when people around you also have free time. As he puts it, "time is a networked good." So if people around you are gainfully employed, sitting at home alone and being unemployed sucks. On weekends though, when everyone's off work, being unemployed isn't so bad.
So perhaps the worry about technology isn't that it causes some amount of unemployment. Some unemployment, after all, is experienced as pretty bad and people work hard to avoid it, even when their jobs aren't that great to being with. The real "worry" would be that unemployment crosses some threshold and becomes so widespread that it's socially acceptable and quite enjoyable. We're social beings. If everyone around you doesn't work, it isn't hard to imagine people finding more enjoyable pastimes - gardening, online video-games, etc.
Provided they have a means of securing their living, of course (enter UBI).
Does it follow that, say, young people are happier in places with outrageously high youth unemployment than in places where almost everyone works?
More about Cristobal's research here.
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