Saturday, 11 March 2017
Addiction and Automation
Addiction & Automation For much of human history, people have defined themselves and their worth through their work. To adapt a well-known TV advert, “We are what we do”. However, the world we have always known, where work can provide an identity, purpose and status, seems destined to be swept away in the next couple of decades. The inevitable increase in automation will eventually lead to a society where most people will not have a job. Once the ready-made identity that work provides is no longer available, who and what will we be? Once this happens, the challenges that will face society are significant – a real crisis, in fact. It is a matter for the Government of the day to consider – a matter essentially linked to the economy and, therefore, the health and well-being of the nation. Unfortunately, there seems to be almost no thought devoted to this universal global problem. The problem is not insurmountable but unless plans are put in place to prepare for this looming crisis, one of the likely consequences will be that millions of people, devoid of purpose, will seek stupefaction. Addiction is ultimately a crisis of meaning; if life has no meaning or purpose, then the retreat into the oblivion of drugs and alcohol makes perfect sense. Many addicts finally get well when the pain of losing everything in their lives that gave them purpose and structure becomes too acute. The loss of jobs, relationships and status can spur addicts into finally getting well and eventually rebuilding their lives. But a life where value is based on external things is not the real solution to the addiction problem. Not only are the ‘things’ of the world transitory and fleeting, especially in the case of work itself, but they cannot answer the deeper needs of the individual – the need for connection and wholeness. The challenge ahead is to provide an alternative model of society, post work, which addresses the real emotional and humanistic needs of people, because if we fail to do this many of the lonely, bored and disaffected members of the automatised society will seek comfort in addiction and other destructive pursuits. There is no need to fear a workless future; after all, human beings were not specifically born to perform repetitive tasks 9-5, Monday to Friday, and the world of work as we know it is only 250 years old anyway. But there is a new ‘industrial revolution’ ahead of us, where ‘work’ will not be the defining factor in people’s lives any more. In that scenario, if life is to be meaningful and fulfilling, people need to be guided to seek a real meaning derived from within, not from externalities such as work. The generations that will live with little to no chance of work need to be prepared emotionally and spiritually for a world that, currently, few of us can imagine.