The changing nature of work

Two days ago Daniel posted a question on Twitter asking:

How does the nature of work change when the efficiencies of technology rule an increasing number of jobs obsolete?

It is not easy to answer that question in just 140 characters so instead I wanted to provide a more thoughtful response here.

For a long time now work in America has been rooted in the tradition of mid-20th century notions of work and employment. We are still given the impression that it is specific jobs and particular industries that matter. That is the heart of what must change as technology rules more jobs obsolete.

While the 20th century allowed for the career notion of a job the next century will be decidedly less so. We must reframe our discourse of work away from the notion of a job with a company and toward an idea centered around process and growth.

The career job that 20th century Americans lusted after is rooted in notions of static work. A person could be described by the position they held and the career path they followed. At the extreme of this they went into a physical office building every Monday through Friday from 9 to 5 and at the end of the day they came home to the house that they had lived in for the last 5, 10, 20 years. When technology, an inherently non-static force, begins to disrupt the work world with greater ferocity we will have to put down these notions.

Work in the 21st century is not attached to a specific job nor a particular company. Instead, it must be defined by idea-based notions of interest. Work must become tied to a life-long process of education and cognitive development.

This goes along with a thought I had after reading Dave Troy’s piece a couple days ago about how “we continue to build cogs for this machine as though nothing has changed.” The technological disruption of work, which we are just at the beginning of, will create a future in which adaptation is a more vital skill than current way we understand knowledge and abilities. To adapt we must continue learning and exploring new avenues of whatever area of human endeavors we pursue.

Ultimately work in the next century needs to be defined by how it changes. As technology rules more jobs obsolete the impetus is on us to adapt and change. We must stop thinking about what jobs we would like and start thinking about what ideas drive our passions.