What are we going to do in the future? For those compelled by the arguments for mass technological unemployment, it’s a constant question.
Maslow’s hierarchy presents a useful structure for the two critical parts of the answer.
Without work, how do we earn our safety and security, food and shelter, the bottom tiers of the pyramid?
Even if we can address those issues — driving the debate about Universal Basic Income — how do we fulfil our needs at the upper tiers? Self-esteem is often deeply connected to the value of our work. More practically, many of us meet our partners through work.
The answer often given, is that we are freed for more creative pursuits. This doesn’t mean we become a nation of watercolour artists, with fields of easels at every beauty spot. Creativity has many faces, and freed from commercial constraint we may see the progress of scientific discovery accelerate, as well as cultural advancement.
For this to be true though, and for creative activities to provide the emotional returns that we all require, we need to know how to engage with them. And right now, I’m not sure that we do.
Being consistently creative in a way that rewards requires a great degree of discipline. Not just to keep you focused on a task, but to know when you cannot focus and release yourself to freewheel while the brain recharges.
This is unscientific and vague language — I’m afraid I don’t have the terms to properly describe the process. But it’s familiar to anyone who has to create for large parts of their working life, whatever form that creativity takes. I’ve been writing professionally, in one form or another, for 18 years now. But I still have to wrestle myself away from the keyboard when the words aren’t coming. I have to break the conditioning that says good work is about effort and application, something that even now is deeply embedded.
If we are to be a nation of creatives at some point in the future, perhaps we have to start changing the way we teach people to work. And even if the robot jobs apocalypse never comes, this may just be a positive step anyway.