In The News, Some Links

Robots, robots, robots

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Robots, robots, robots

I’ve been on vacation, and actually not working for a change. Instead, I’ve been spending time with family, pursuing ‘hobbies’ (if reading and writing is a hobby), and thinking deeply about the year ahead. Exercising my ‘right to disconnect’ (see Alissa Rubin’s piece, mentioned below). But that means I haven’t been diligently responding to new writings on the future of work.

Here’s some links, and brief comments:

  • Can Uber Ever Deliver? Part One — Understanding Uber’s Bleak Operating Economics — The naked capitalism site is down this morning(?), but this piece poses a good question: can Uber ever justify its valuation through profitability, or are the margins just not there? I have wondered if Uber represents a transitional phase between personal and mass transportation, one that will culminate in driverless car fleets of the near future. I, for one, am not investing in car hailing platforms.
  • Alissa Rubin reports on France’s new legislation enacting a ‘right to disconnect’: see France Lets Workers Turn Off, Tune Out and Live Life. Seeking to counter burnout — or death by overwork (see below) — France now prohibits companies with 50 or more employees set up new ‘protocols’ so that work does not intrude into days off or afterwork hours. I think this is a rearguard action, but I applaud the effort to draw lines around work/life balance.
  • A startling analysis by economists Lawrence Katz of Harvard University and Alan Krueger at Princeton University, reported by Dan Kopf in Quartz, lays out a stark reality: ‘We find that 94% of net job growth in the past decade was in the alternative work category,’ said Krueger. ‘And over 60% was due to the [the rise] of independent contractors, freelancers and contract company workers.’ So, almost all all of the 10 million ‘jobs’ ‘created’ from 2005 until 2015 were not actually jobs, but gigs. More evidence of the fast shift to a Gig Economy, and the rise of precarious work culture. The authors were surprised by the findings. Go read it.
  • Oliver Burkeman believes time management is ruining our lives, saying ‘In an era of insecure employment, we must constantly demonstrate our usefulness through frenetic doing, and time management can give you a valuable edge. Indeed, if you are among the growing ranks of the self-employed, as a freelancer or a worker in the so-called gig economy, increased personal efficiency may be essential to your survival.’ At the heart of all this time obsession (and the implicit overwork behind it) is, according to Burkeman, an avoidance of existential questions: ‘Personal productivity presents itself as an antidote to busyness when it might better be understood as yet another form of busyness. And as such, it serves the same psychological role that busyness has always served: to keep us sufficiently distracted that we don’t have to ask ourselves potentially terrifying questions about how we are spending our days. “How we labour at our daily work more ardently and thoughtlessly than is necessary to sustain our life because it is even more necessary not to have leisure to stop and think,” wrote Friedrich Nietzsche, in what reads like a foreshadowing of our present circumstances. “Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself.”’ A really excellent long read.
  • Gallup reports that Fewer Than 200 Million Worldwide Have Great Jobs, by which they mean the fraction of the 1.3 billion worldwide who have ‘good’ jobs — full-time work with an employer — but who are actively engaged in their work. I haven’t read the full report, but plan to.
  • In a trend that will surprise no one, iPhone manufacturer Foxconn plans to replace almost every human worker with robots. A three-phase plan to automate the overwhelming majority of workers, with 30% by 2020. It is creating its own ‘Foxbots’, about 10,000 per year. Some production lines are already in the second — undefined — phase of automation. ‘Ultimately, this will translate into hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people out of work.’

Written by

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

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