Job: A basis for the human? Short digression on the implications of having a job in our society

Few days ago I ended to read José Saramago’s The Cave, based on Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave’, and it made me ponder:

Which is the relevance of job in an individual’s life?

The more I think about it, the more I feel the social conventions behind it. We can find some typical quotes such as ‘Work dignifies people’ (Karl Marx) or ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (‘Work frees’), as we can see in the entry sign of Auschwitz. Conversely, people tend to complain about having to work when it has lots of things to do; another fact that shows us how often we do contradict ourselves.

Auschwitz' door
(Source: Pixabay)

In this context, Saramago’s book makes the following question: What would happen if our job ended being ‘useful, important’ to the society? Or, rephrasing it:

What would happen if everything that we create, we do, is worthless?

Such a strong (and depressing) question, but we should remember which situation we face nowadays. Having a look at the posts of this blog, I find 2 concepts that can foster this feeling in a short time, which are:

  1. The self-driving, and
  2. The Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The first one will directly affect the transport, making many taxi drivers, chauffeurs, carriers, etc. to lose their jobs. The second concept will affect more areas as it is more generic and generalizable, such as the coding, the advocacy, the medicine, etc.

How? Well, looking to the development that has already happened, I can only tell that it will apply to the most precarious tasks in those ambits. I mean, if there’s a program that can generate a good bunch of useful code, the role of the starter that has just finished the university might not be needed. The same would apply to those lawyer ‘rookies’ that have to dive into piles of legal texts to find specific details for the resolution of a case, as we can imagine with this piece of news.

Therefore, it seems legit to think that the bigger the technological improvement is, the lower the precariousness of the jobs is. However, this doesn’t fit our reality; we can demonstrate so with the lack of payment of undergraduate’s first jobs in several areas of knowledge, as we can see in this petition (Spanish).

It is true that technology, in this ‘exponential’ growth period, is 5-10 years beyond the common citizens. The aforementioned concepts already exist, but they still have to be marketed and become mainstream. But…

Which are their implications?

Firstly, ‘everybody’ will be able to obtain a deep knowledge about certain subjects (such as Master’s Degrees, PhDs, …). But this doesn’t mean these people will have the chance to get a job on their preferred topic, due to their economical needs, as well as to the lack of a solid business fabric that can employ them. This will consequently lead us to have overqualified people on various jobs; for instance, the dumb example of the PhD in Physics working at a McDonald’s.

Secondly (and considering Saramago’s example: a potter family), some people that always had simple tasks won’t be able to make ends meet anymore because machines might be doing that same task much faster. In a nutshell, their work is worth nothing. So, could we assert that ‘the potter’s job dignifies him/her’? Or does he/she lack the chance of ‘feeling dignified’, inversely to the PhD in Physics? It doesn’t appear to be very fair.

All in all, and avoiding to defend the careless attitude that I criticized on the previous post, I feel that our concept of ‘job’ has to be untied from a list of tags and preconceived ideas that we actually consider as ‘normal’. And I’m not saying so because of a momentary reflection, but convenience.

If we cannot assume these incoming changes, many people might suffer from them, as we can hardly tell to a company not to try to maximize their profits, even if that implies ‘workforce restructuring’ or installing a machine that could produce what a group of employees would.

Workers working
(Source: Pixabay)

[Originally written at June 18th, 2016]