For those of us alive today, our core beliefs, the way we live, and our notion of work are rooted in the way it has been for the last 250 years. To us, it has always been this way. When a transformative era emerges, we struggle to imagine a different way of doing things – even when the emerging future is begging us to think differently. One great example lies in the future of work. As we struggle to envision a world where work is no longer required, we fail to realize that History is very Instructive.
If we reach a state of abundance, where our basic needs are handled at minimal cost and most “jobs” are automated, what do humans do with their time? That question leads to a different question: are humans capable of living in a world where they pursue their passions and a life of leisure? In the highly acclaimed book titled The Second Machine Age, the authors talk about the importance of working. In a future where work may not be necessary, there is a real danger that society will decline. They quote Voltaire: “Work saves a man from three great evils: boredom, vice, and need”.
This question of humans adapting to life without work assumes that the last 250 years represents the total human experience. In reality, it represents a small percentage of our existence. In this recent Article by Jessica Stillman, she describes the work of author James Suzman in detailing his decades of research of African hunter gatherer societies. His findings argue that the in the broader course of human history, modern humans are weirdly workaholic.
Our perception of human history does not extend to the 300,000 plus years of our existence. Per the article, anthropological evidence shows that for the vast majority of that time, our ancestors were living leisurely lives. Our hunter gatherer ancestors worked 15 hours per week, were well fed, content, and longer-lived than people in many agricultural societies. Hard work was essential in the agriculture era, a time of scarcity. Hunter gatherers lived in a time of abundance – and we could be heading there again. Thinking differently may just mean “thinking previously.” How we lived may hold the key to how we live.