Technology and the Future of Work

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Technology and the Future of Work

Every society creates an idealised image of the future - a vision that serves as a beacon to direct the imagination and energy of its people. The Ancient Jewish nation prayed for deliverance to a promised land of milk and honey. Later, Christian clerics held out the promise of eternal salvation in the heavenly kingdom. In the modern age, the idea of a future technological utopia has served as the guiding light of industrial society. For more than a century utopian dreamers and men and women of science and letters have looked for a future world where machines would replace human labour, creating a near workerless society of abundance and leisure. (J Rifkin 1995 p.42)

This paper will consider developments in technology, robotics, electronic miniaturisation, digitisation and information technology with its social implications for human values and the future of work. It will argue that we have entered post modernity or post Fordism, a new age technological revolution, which profoundly effects social structure and values. Some issues that will be addressed are: elimination of work in the traditional sense, longevity, early retirement, the elimination of cash, the restructuring of education, industry and a movement to global politics, economics and world government.

In particular this paper will suggest that the Christian Judao work ethic with society's goals of full employment in the traditional sense is no longer appropriate, necessary or even possible in the near future, and that the definition of work needs to be far more liberal. It argues that as a post market era approaches, that both government and society will need to recognise the effects of new technology on social structure and re-distribute resources, there will need to be rapid development of policies to assist appropriate social adjustments if extreme social unrest, inequity, trauma and possible civil disruption is to be avoided.

Yonedji Masuda (1983) suggests we are moving from an industrial society to an information society and maintains that a social revolution is taking place. He suggests that we have two choices ‘Computopia' or an ‘Automated State', a controlled society. He believes that if we choose the former, the door to a society filled with boundless possibilities will open; but if the latter, our future society will become a forbidding and a horrible age. He optimistically predicts our new future society will be ‘computopia' which he describes as exhibiting information values where individuals will develop their cognitive creative abilities and citizens and communities will participate voluntarily in shared goals and ideas.

Barry Jones (1990) says we are passing through a post-service revolution into a post- service society - which could be a golden age of leisure and personal development based on the cooperative use of resources.

Jeremy Rifkin (1995) uses the term ‘The Third Industrial Revolution' which he believes is now beginning to have a significant impact on the way society organises its economic activity. He describes it as the third and final stage of a great shift in economic paradigm, and a transition to a near workless information society, marked by the transition from renewable to non-renewable sources of energy and from biological to mechanical sources of power.

In contrast to Masuda, Jones and Rifkin, Rosenbrock et al. (1981) delved into the history of the British Industrial Revolution, and they concluded firmly that we are not witnessing a social revolution of equivalent magnitude, because the new information technology is not bringing about new ways of living. They predicted that we are not entering an era when work becomes largely unnecessary, there will be no break with the past, but will be seeing the effect of new technology in the next 20 years as an intensification of existing tendencies, and their extension to new areas.

I suggest that Rosenbrock may come to...
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