What Is The Future Of Work?

Many readers of the New York Times article on Amazon’s work culture were appalled by the description of a brutal environment with a strong work/work balance. Others claimed the pressure cooker treatment separates the winners from the losers, pointing out that Amazon isn’t the only “new economy” company out there demanding total dedication.

It might seem glib to say “if you don’t like the conditions, get another job”, but let’s assume that, given the apparently strict selection process at Amazon, the personnel are highly skilled and therefore attractive propositions to a host of other companies. In other words, they probably could get another job without too much trouble. This is not to excuse the behaviour reported in the article, but merely to say that there are people who choose to enter that kind of bearpit with their eyes open, looking forward to darwinian combat to the death ( from stress-related heart disease).

So I don’t want to debate the ethics of the Amazon-style workplace, but to wonder what the daily superhuman efforts to go faster, higher, stronger – at the expense of friends, family and health – are for. The answer seems to be surpassing customer expectations by, for example, delivering a doll within 23 minutes.

I found myself asking why the client needed the doll so quickly. Was quality time with their offspring fitted in between conference calls? And what about the Amabot in question? Did the all-nighters pulled in her quest lead her to go on her own online convenience shopping sprees, placing orders actioned by minions at other zippy companies, available 24/7 for the client’s slightest whim?

This led me to wonder about the future of work, when mindless drudge jobs have been eliminated by automation and AI. The theory goes that disruptive technologies ultimately create new, unforeseen forms of employment.

Is it too much to hope that this new employment is geared towards improving our collective lot? Not just in what is produced, but in the way it is produced (and maybe some thought about whether or not it is even necessary to be produced).

Otherwise we will have simply exchanged one treadmill for another.