What will the future of work look like?
12 February 2014
What does 75 Watt tell us about the easy application of labour? We no longer work to survive – our industries are based elsewhere. Does 75 Watt predict a future where our industrial vanity projects move past entertainment, cultural enrichment, and other non-essentials and become more difficult to justify and ultimately pointless? Is this in fact happening now? Is there any value (culturally, philosophically, or otherwise) in “the workers’ dance”?
"The workers' film has not become a main genre in film history. The space in front of the gate is far from being a preferred cinematic location. Most films begin when the work is over.” Does life begin when the work is over? Are we seeking to escape the leisure/work division by blending the two in increasingly vague workspaces? Farocki’s Workers Leaving the Factory depicts the history of factory-leavers in film, identifying a pattern: this traditional industry is dying, and is no longer such a widespread professional path. Compare it to Wilson’s video Workers Leaving the Googleplex - our industries have changed and our industrial goods are now digital and intangible, and the workers have had to change with them. As we develop increasingly complex technology and our industries develop further, will there be any need for the menial industrial worker? What alternative economy can support a society that has little need for uneducated, unskilled workers? Will this result in a Utopian technology-fronted leisure paradise, or a barren and divided society characterised by poverty and unemployment? What jobs are necessarily “human” jobs – why can’t a machine do these? Will a machine ever be able to do these? How long do we have?
Crouse and Rothenberg’s Laborers of Love echoes these questions. mturk.com exists because machines can’t do every menial task, but for how long will this remain true? Should this growing reliance on machines be welcomed? Should the pornography industry be valued precisely because it relies upon human involvement, or are the people involved conversely becoming merely machines to perform as we desire? The paying director will after all be in control of what he/she sees, and able to “turn on” or “turn off” the display as desired. Has the Internet encouraged this organic roboticism in the porn industry? Will human involvement always be necessary? What ethical issues does this piece bring with it? Are even these industries reliant upon physicality becoming less human? The Creative Exchange Project’s Hybrid Lives highlights how our communication and our collaborative efforts have changed in terms of human interaction. Our networks render human meeting unnecessary, and now work is mostly digital, what need is there of the physical workspace? How many industries and economies does this apply to? Consider the military or the arts. Would such a techno-centric workplace limit human contact or allow for more leisure time? What predictions for the future are these pieces implying?
Why is one task or job valued over another? What is the relationship between skilled and unskilled work? What is the relationship between responsibility and pay? Why are the jobs most crucial to society and survival not valued as much as more decadent, less vital positions? Or has our classification of what is “vital” changed? Is the luxury of vanity positions and cultural economies indicative of an advanced and “better” society? How can we morally justify capitalist wealth distribution in light of Walker’s One Pound? Do our economy and society develop with the labourer’s “turn of the crank” (as seen in Fall-Conroy’s Minimum Wage Machine), or have we reached the point where all this achieves is maintaining the stagnation of the status quo? Are these minimum wage jobs as pointless as Fall-Conroy implies?
Meech’s mural of work data will likely surprise when it is unveiled in the exhibition. Will it be a fairly ordered and standardised depiction of the typical working day, or will the glitches far outnumber the ordered lines? Should we be aiming for the standardised order of the regular 8/8/8 split, or will the glitches of colour betray an aesthetic beauty that also applies to the real world? Is the flexibility of the working day a beautiful thing; Is this mixing of work, rest, and play a thing of unity and luxury, or do these now entwined aspects corrupt each other? Should we strive for the order of division or the vibrancy and unpredictability of cohesion? Now that work can be done more quickly and efficiently with the help of technology and mass-organisation, do we expect more free time represented? Or simply more work completed? What does this say about the direction society is headed? The impact of this piece will partly depend on the expectations and opinions of the viewer.
Is the maintenance of industry, which is arguably our single most important societal objective, really advancing us culturally?