IEET > Rights > Economic > Vision > Fellows > Douglas Rushkoff > Technoprogressivism
Are jobs obsolete?
Doug Rushkoff   Sep 16, 2011   CNN  

We might want to stop thinking about jobs as the main aspect of our lives that we want to save. They may be a means, but they are not the ends.

The U.S. Postal Service appears to be the latest casualty in digital technology’s slow but steady replacement of working humans. Unless an external source of funding comes in, the post office will have to scale back its operations drastically, or simply shut down altogether. That’s 600,000 people who would be out of work, and another 480,000 pensioners facing an adjustment in terms.

We can blame a right wing attempting to undermine labor, or a left wing trying to preserve unions in the face of government and corporate cutbacks. But the real culprit—at least in this case—is email. People are sending 22% fewer pieces of mail than they did four years ago, opting for electronic bill payment and other net-enabled means of communication over envelopes and stamps.

New technologies are wreaking havoc on employment figures—from EZ Passes ousting toll collectors to Google-controlled self-driving automobiles rendering taxicab drivers obsolete. Every new computer program is basically doing some task that a person used to do. But the computer usually does it faster, more accurately, for less money, and without any health insurance costs.

We like to believe that the appropriate response is to train humans for higher level work. Instead of collecting tolls, the trained worker will fix and program toll-collecting robots. But it never really works out that way, since not as many people are needed to make the robots as the robots replace.

And so the President goes on television telling us that the big issue of our time is jobs, jobs, jobs—as if the reason to build high-speed rails and fix bridges is to put people back to work. But it seems to me there’s something backwards in that logic. I find myself wondering if we may be accepting a premise that deserves to be questioned.

I am afraid to even ask this, but since when is unemployment really a problem? I understand we all want paychecks—or at least money. We want food, shelter, clothing, and all the things that money buys us. But do we all really want jobs?


Douglas Rushkoff is a fellow of the IEET, author of a dozen books and comic books, producer of two award-winning Frontline documentaries, and his essays have been published widely.


One way or another, we must transition to an open source/access abundant economy.

Machines are not just going to take over the menial things we do, but also the intellectual things as well.

Then, we can eventually make the choice to merge with our technology or not, but those who do not can live in relative peace without economic hardship.

Perhaps a new kind of competitive market will emerge amongst the post-humans in the virtual world they create, I don’t know yet.

What I do know is that what I’ve learned about chaos and entropy suggests to me that unless we transition to an economic model based on abundance rather than scarcity, then our species is unlikely to survive long enough to make that choice. Perhaps this is why some have have answered the Fermi paradox with the conclusion that intelligence life goes extinct.

It’s now a matter of survival, not sentiment.

Nobody needs “a job”.

Everybody needs a) food, shelter and the means to live a minimally decent life, and b) something interesting and useful to do. Most people are forced to choose a) and give up b)

If society is able to give a) to everyone without asking them to give up b) in return, what’s the problem? Some people would sleep all day, but I believe most people would try hard to do something good, and often succeed,

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