A Working Future

Telling Lies to Get at the Truth about Work

Science fiction isn’t just thinking about the world out there. It’s also thinking about how that world might be — a particularly important exercise for those who are oppressed, because if they’re going to change the world we live in, they — and all of us — have to be able to think about a world that works differently.

| Samuel Delany

We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.

| Ursula K. Le Guin

I think that my generation, the generation that grew up in the ’60s, we were supposed to be such idealists. We were going to change the world, and look what we have.

| Jill Abramson

I have written a number of manifestos intended to lay the groundwork for a new way of work, such as A Manifesto for a New Way of Work, written in 2015 as the starting point for a book that I never wrote. I agree with much of what I wrote, but now, in 2018, I am taking a new tack.

I won’t be laying out a logical, consistent, well-considered and footnoted argument for a new way of work, with all the reasons why standing up in sequence like a domino show, just waiting for the reader to push the first domino. That approach, which I now reject, implies that if we just convince enough people to make enough changes in themselves, their teams, and their businesses, then — once all the dominoes have fallen — we will find ourselves in a new world of work.

Now, instead of pretending to be a grand architect — or sorcerer — that can design or conjure a new way of work into existence with a few thousand well-chosen domino-shaped words, I’ve decided to bail on that sort of writing project. Perhaps I’m not enough of a charlatan to pull it off, or, to be more charitable and self-aware, I just don’t have it in me to write a book that I might not really want to read.

One reason I wouldn’t want to read such a book is that it might just focus on the narrow context of work and ignore the unsurprising fact that we live in a larger world, whose externalities define and channel the world of work totally. We can’t ignore income inequality, climate change, or political unrest, and look only inside the walls of the business. We can’t paint all the windows black, and pretend that people are unidimensional drones who have no life, connection, or purpose outside of the office and their work.

So, I’ve decided on another course. Being more of a brick-through-the-window sort of subversive than anything else, and a self-described futurist, instead I plan to write a series of future scenarios, and accompanying commentary. The goal is to explore the near future through the interactions of fictional characters, who are living their lives in the 2020’s. These stories are speculative, inconclusive, and partial. And by partial, I mean in two ways:

  1. They are incomplete, and have only fragments of what might be called story arcs.
  2. I am taking sides. These stories are not balanced, they aren’t reportage or journalism, they are deeply subjective. These stories are oppositional, or are intended to incite strong opinions, and perhaps, conflict.

And I don’t know how it all comes out. Some stories may be utopian, others dystopian. A single story might have elements of both. Different stories might contradict each other. People in one story may show up in others, but some may appear in only one. Some are focused on technology, others on ethics, or education, or leadership.

Basically, I am telling lies to get at the truth about work, or something like it. With my fingers crossed behind my back.

We’ll just have to see where it goes. I make no promises, but I am unambivalent about the project, at least. I bet it will be a book I would like to read, at least.

crossposted from stoweboyd.com.

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store