While Cubert and his family spend a little vacation time in the Desert Southwest, his mighty friends have offered to step in with some excellent content. Today, I’m excited to have my Minneapolis friend, Adam, from Crispy Cabbage, take center stage with Let the Robots Have Our Crappy Jobs. Adam is not only a fine writer, but he’s also a very talented illustrator. I hope you enjoy today’s post: Robots taking our jobs?!? Take it away, Adam…
So, you wanna ditch your cubicle job, huh? want to be your boss? You’re at least curious what life outside those dreary brown walls is like. You’re here on Abandoned Cubicle’s great site, right? Probably on a work computer during business hours.
I’ve got great news for you, then… Your cubicle kind of wants to quit you too! And all those other paycheck jobs out there we’ve come to know and love post-industrial revolution? They’d rather not have us smelly Meat Puppets around anymore either. See how I tucked in that 90s pop culture reference, Cubert? Gen-X FTW!
I’ve talked about it before. Jobs will fundamentally change. Artificial intelligence (AI) is gettingso advanced that it could be coming soon for important bits of even our most highly-respected professions…
Engineers. Doctors. Accountants! Most work as we know it now is destined to be replaced by stacks and stacks of servers and snarky voice boxes called Alexa.
Our God-given creativity and our God-given right to self-medicate will save us… and probably also the blockchain will save us. I can’t forget about the blockchain. We’re required to mention blockchain in any article about technology, now, so I’ll bring it in full force later on.
Also, you’re reading a financial independence (FI) website, so you’ve already taken the first steps to prepare for this kind of “jobless” future.
I love talking about this stuff. Not because I want to be fatalistic about it. But because I want to spread the good word that it’s all gonna be alright. Even if you’re not very far on the path to FI. It’s all going to be alright. Even if you kind of still rely on that bi-weekly paycheck to put food on the table (like I do). It’s all going to be alright.
I don’t know exactly how it’ll all play out. But I truly believe there will be plenty of ways to make a living in the future. And if you’ve already braced yourself for the upheaval to come using the principles of FI, you’re bound to find supreme satisfaction in the work you want to do.
When One Door Closes Another One Opens Up
Goodness. That’s cliché. And it probably doesn’t make the data analyst that just got replaced by a string of code feel much better right now either. But overall, historically, that has been the case when it comes to our jobs.
Historically, when it comes to technology and automation taking crappy jobs from humans, new, slightly less crappy jobs usually come along to take their place, and so forth and so on.
Telephone Switchboard Operator → Telemarketer… Maybe not the best example, but you can see how these things evolve.
Luckily, I found a video on Vox that sums everything up a lot more nicely than I can. It’s appropriately titled Why The Rise of Robots Won’t Mean The End Of Work.
Economists argue we’ve been afraid of new tech taking our jobs for a long time now. And each time the robots came to replace us in one job, technology unlocked new opportunities for work for us humans.
“Tons of jobs have died, but work persists,” says Joss Fong, a reporter for Vox, summing up the argument from economists. “It’s really easy for us to see the jobs being replaced by machines. It’s a lot harder to visualize the jobs that come from what happens next.”
There are direct jobs created for designers and maintainers of the new technology. But there are also the spin-off jobs that are hard to predict, created from the fruits of higher productivity brought on by better technology.
Tech has only enhanced the productivity of the human workforce overall (Well, generally. Ignore email, Facebook, and PC LOAD LETTER messages flashing on the copier that still needs the toner cartridge changed). As a collective, we tend to use the power of technology in new creative ways that up the standard of living for all mankind.
Futurists argue this time is different, though. Futurists like Martin Ford, author of “Rise of the Robots”, are a little gloomy about the future of work this time around.
“Imagine a form of electricity that could automate all the routine work. I mean, that’s basically what we’re talking about here. So, [job losses are] going to be across the board,” He says in the Vox video.
I say, Hell yeah, it’s different. Hell yeah, the routine work is going away. Machines can have crappy routine work. Bring it on!
Become a Solopreneur
Instead of just enhancing the power of the collective workforce. Now, technology is empowering the individual like never before. And if we don’t screw it up as a society, we now sit at the start of a golden age for entrepreneurs.
Don’t have an MBA from Wharton? No problem. You can find your niche as a mom-blogger making edible unicorn poop for the masses. Highest respect, by the way, to all unicorn-related products and anyone who comes up with them. Oh, and doing fun projects with your kids is pretty cool too.
Lacking the backing of a Silicon Valley incubator? And any cooking expertise. At all? Not a problem. Just raise $55,000 on Kickstarter for your potato salad startup. This guy’s my hero.
sh*t! Mark Burnett’s unavailable to produce your next television project? Maybe, just maybe, you can get that show starring the obnoxious talking citrus fruit off the ground yourself…
I’m not saying all this stuff makes the world a better place (even though everything I just mentioned does). I’m just saying, even though some doors are closing on salaried work, other doors are flinging wide open for all the creative entrepreneurs among us.
I happen to think all of us have at least a little entrepreneur in us. I know everyone can create. And technology is breaking down barriers to business all over the place.
Presumably, there are many, many other ways to make money and make a difference in this crazy new world that doesn’t involve websites and food products. I’m just scratching the surface of what can happen when people’s creativity is amplified by the tools of technology.
Hmmm… Can I interrupt for a sec, Mister Crispy? This is all fine and dandy for those Enterprising Ediths who have the creative elbow grease to polish a unicorn poop. Gross!
But what about the Tool-time Timmies with more traditional skills who like to work with their hands? What about Welder Wyatt who spent years and years honing his craft only to be replaced by a robotic arm on the assembly line that doesn’t need potty breaks? What about that, Mister Crispy? Hmmm?
- crappy jobs — illustrator?
Gladys! I thought you’d show up to make the argument again for a universal basic income and free Skittles for everybody because of the job-market meltdown. But maybe opportunities in the traditional trades won’t dry up so easily either.
Maybe even something like the assembly line that started to abandon humans a long time ago will be returned to the people in a different form. Maybe even that comes back better than ever. Without so much drudgery.
I am humbly presenting to all my imaginary unicorn friends and real-life readers all across the world, the unofficial grand opening of…
The Blockchain Robots Assembly Line
I usually don’t take much stock in crypto-news. Crypto-coin offerings are the next dot.com boom/bust as far as I’m concerned. And then read about the exciting opportunity to “invest” in a new crypto-coin with Steven Seagal’s round-house stamp of approval on it.
But there’s no doubt the underlying blockchain technology has the chance to change the world in ways we’re just starting to see. And I found this obscure article about a company trying to use the blockchain to bring work back to small factories in the U.S. in a way I don’t think anyone could have foreseen even five years ago.
I have to admit, it all just sounds like a little more fancy version of Craigslist to me. But I’m sure it’s a lot more complicated than that. The company highlighted in the article is essentially using technology to help Silicon Valley crowdsource its manufacturing across the U.S.
Syncfab, inc. wants to connect Big Tech on the west coast with underused small factories and machine shops on Main Street all over the United States to quickly produce the parts they need. And for much less cost.
I don’t care much about SyncFab, itself. I don’t know much about the company. It sounds like a cool concept. But, whether the company succeeds or fails, that’s not the point. Sorry, SyncFab.
Here’s the part of the article that I want to stress…
“The combination of blockchain and industrial equipment being pioneered by companies like SyncFab is likely to give rise to a new job market… The market will combine characteristics of both traditional skilled trades and the gig economy.”
It’s a fascinating real-time study of how technology taketh and then giveth jobs back. Just like what was talked about in the Vox video. I mean, assembly-line jobs are coming back! Of all things!
And I’m not talking million-square-foot-factory-sweat-job-style assembly line jobs. I’m talking take-an-afternoon-break-to-get-a-shave-at-Joe’s-Barber-Shop-and-have-yourself-some-Sanka-at-Flo’s-Diner assembly line jobs!
Run a Business Out of Your Garage!
And you all thought we’d be flying around in our briefcase cars rushing to get to the office to push buttons for Mr. Spacely.
Nope. In this reality, if we take things to the logical extreme, the assembly line can start right in our garage. After all, we won’t need them for cars anymore.
Could our manufacturing reality end up being more King of the Hill than George Jetson?
Dang ole better believe it I tell you what, man!
Maybe the future of manufacturing is independent contractor best buddies like Hank, Dale, Bill, and Boomhauer all around the world drinking Alamo in the alley shooting the sh*t waiting for drone delivery to come to pick up the small batch of custom sprockets they just welded to the doodads hot off the 3D printers running off the iPhone on top of the boombox next to the dorm fridge. All powered by the solar shingles on top of the garage.
This may be the reality when the blockchain takes over a decentralized and on-demand assembly line. Just another example of all the new opportunities coming our way.
Will Robots Take Over Our Jobs Now Please??
Of course, there have always been gaps to jump to get to the tasty new work on the other side of a tech revolution. And that’s where the pain comes in if you’re not prepared.
There’s the skills gap. You may need to learn new skills to compete in the new market. There’s the geography gap. You may need to move to where the new work is. And there’s the time gap. People simply need time to adjust.
The good news is, this time around, technology may already be taking care of the first two for us.
In the future, we’ll find that almost every job can be done from almost anywhere. The internet and blockchain and self-driving cars will fill the geography gap. And when virtual reality takes over completely… Fuggedaboudit!
Advanced software that’s easier than ever to use will fill the skills gap. Real-time learning using augmented reality will fill it more. Honest-to-goodness smart pills could put an end to it completely!
It’s the time gap that’s the tough one. We still need time to adjust to our new reality and find work that suits us. Even if we don’t care for our cubicle, it’s still scary outside it.
We need time to adjust to the bright life outside and reorient ourselves to a new world. And because time is money and money is time, that’s where the financial skills learned from Abandoned Cubicle and the rest of the FI community come in.
We need to be frugal. Widen the margin between what we earn and what we spend. Find out what’s most important in our life and spend our money on that.
We need to use that margin to build a cushion of savings. We’ve got to insulate ourselves so we can recover from the immediate shock of a paycheck-less existence and find our niche in the new economy. Or, when we’ve got enough savings, just simply add our talents to the mix for fun and life satisfaction.
We need to completely reimagine what it means to make a living. Stop worrying about losing our soul-sucking cubicle jobs. Embrace the robot revolution. Let the machines do the crappy work. And open our eyes to all the other opportunities in our best-designed life.
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Great writing! This is one of the funniest posts I’ve read in awhile!
I’m one of those crazy people that think a combination of Basic Income and shorter work week will help us adjust to automation and lead us all to a better life.
Thanks, Mr Freaky!
The Universal Basic Income will definitely be an upcoming debate. I’m still optimistic that most of us won’t need it. That we’ll be able to find plenty of ways to earn beyond anything that a basic income would pay us. Simply due to all the doors tech is opening to us average joe’s (a tiny sliver of which I mentioned in the article) that will support us as solopreneurs, independent contractors, etc.
That said, with all the wealth that will be created from productivity gains of automation, etc, there’s really no reason not to have a significant safety net as a society so absolutely no one has to fear poverty. Just my humble opinion on everything.
Thanks for reading!
Very interesting. I’m in my early 50’s and I remember reading 30 years ago about how technology and automation would create a leisure society with 20-30 hour work weeks. What really happened was it created 50-60 hour work weeks and burn out because we can now do so much more. There are reasons why corporate profit margins are at all time highs, while unemployment is at all time lows: Technology, automation and productivity. Tom
ps. Adam, I love your little cabbage head logo I see out on twitter. Now I know you likely illustrated it yourself. Very cool. I love artistic creativity put to good use!
Thanks for reading, Tom!
Agreed! The promise of an official shorter work week hasn’t materialized. Why would it with the kind of dinosaur thinking in government a lot of the time. And, you’re right, in many ways it has gone the other way.
I think a lot of the true productive work for humans (especially in a corporate setting that I’m used to) has been replaced by busy work that we just tell ourselves is productive and just navigating layers and layers of legacy red tape built up over the years. And technology can certainly add to burnout (ahem.. email) because everyone demands instant responses and some bosses feel like they can contact us at all hours and we can “remote” in from all hours. And we feel like we can’t push back because we need our job (I’m actually fortunate to work for a company that really respects work/life balance, but it could easily go the other way)
Here’s the great news! We in the FI community are now forcing the issue of a shorter work week, but not through legislation or anything like that. We’re just setting our lives up so we can stand our ground on work/life balance, maybe even pull back to part-time work that we’re really passionate about, doing full-time work that doesn’t feel like a job, or setting our own hours remote blogging from wherever in the Southwest Cubert is today.
Thanks for the compliment on the cabbage head guy. I don’t know if he really counts as art put to good use, but I’ll take it!
Hey, CC. Very thought provoking post. I suspect you’re right. As long as problems exist, work for humans will exist. But the transition to our AI/blockchain world will be bumpy. My only advice to people is to get out of debt and have a super duper emergency fund. The financially strong will handle the bumpy ride a lot better than the financially weak. Cheers, my friend.
Thanks, Mr. Groovy!
I totally agree that the journey will get bumpy as we adapt. Maybe I was too sunshine and rainbows on this one. But there’s just so much negativity about automation stealing jobs out there. I feel the need to give a little brighter outlook. Technology (when kept reasonably free and open) hands us unimaginable power to take control of our own destiny in ways we couldn’t even have imagined 15-20 years ago… as long as we can see through the consumerism clutter and seize that power. I just see the trend continuing.
And there’s no doubt, the more financially secure and financially FLEXIBLE you are, the better chance you have to thrive in this crazy new world. Love the comment!
No matter where we end up in 20-30 years from now, I can pretty much guarantee it will look different than any of us would have ever expected. Though I wish all this focus and fascinating technology was more focused on the environmental side of things, or we may have screwed the earth enough that it won’t matter. I sure hope not 🙂
Indeed! Fortunately for the world there’s a strong minimalist strain in the FI community and the FI community is growing! Also, Mr. Money Mustache will personally punch us all in the face if we don’t start riding our bikes everywhere.
Thanks for reading!
[email protected] says
Interesting post. One thing is for sure. The workplace 25 years from now will be drastically different than it is today. If you want to prosper, you will have to adapt.
Adaptability being the key word here. Frugality and a strong savings buffer and the tools of FI will help unlock all the choices that technology is sure to provide.
Thanks for reading!
For arguments sake if machines did our job … each and every one of it. Think about the time humans get to be creative, In reaching this point we probably need to go to 100% unemployment after which its utopia … no need to work as all work is taken care … no shortage of anything 🙂 But before we reach there it there would be anarchy.
No argument here! That’s where the Universal Basic Income would have to come in, I suppose. We’d still want people to be able to buy the services and products they want, vote with their dollars, regardless of if they’re able to sell their own services or products to others. Without “routine work”, theoretically that’s all that’s left is pure entrepreneurship to make money. Then, the innovators can continue to innovate and get paid above and beyond for their extra contribution.
I do think there could be some unrest if unemployment gets too high too fast and people and society aren’t able to adapt. But I already see tech organically softening the blow at least a little bit with all the side-hustle opportunities opening up in the gig economy (task-rabbit, Uber, Fivver, etc…). So, I’m optimistic we won’t see full anarchy. It’s a fascinating thought-experiment.
Thanks for reading!
The problem with “universal basic income” is that a lot of people aren’t going to use it in constructive ways. Smart and creative people have a hard time imagining that because they’re smart and creative and think everyone else will be like them if they just have some unearned money. But not everyone is smart and creative. A lot of people will take the money and be idle and use drugs/alcohol and/or engage in other self destructive pursuits. I think of welfare recipients, but also trust fund babies.
Ha, love your writing style. I agree that despite automation, for creative and smart folks “the world is still our oyster”. Opportunities are everywhere, they’re just different. What worries me are the others. We have millions who couldn’t make it even in a more w2-focused economy with factory jobs, so I’m not sure how they’re going to fair in a creative economy. I see potential for an even bigger divide in the haves vs the have-nots
Thanks for the comment, Accidental FIRE!
I actually think there are many more people out there who are more creative than we give them credit for or than they give themselves credit for. There are just all kinds of barriers to entry in the creative and business space, that, in many ways are breaking down. A clear and very simply example is creating a website, YouTube channel and simply sharing your thoughts/talents with the world. You used to need to know at least rudimentary HTML and/or pay thousands of dollars to have someone set up a website for you. Now, it’s maybe $100 in hosting/domain and a free wordpress template and you’re off to the races.
And I’m not just talking creative in the sense of writing, drawing, painting or even dancing, I’m talking about just seeing things differently, seeing a problem and finding a solution, finding a little niche to add value to the world that people see as worth paying for.
Now, saying all that is fine and good. As you say, there are some people that simply won’t have the chops (or motivation) to uncover their opportunities. Or they still only have very few opportunities. But I think it might be far less people than people realize (just my humble opinion). For those who fall through the cracks, there are good-hearted entrepreneurs out there using technology to make it easier than ever for them to get affordable access to healthy food, for example (It’s top of mind because I saw it on Shark Tank, recently). And then there’s, of course, the Universal Basic Income or some other comprehensive social safety net that may have to be a serious topic for debate in the coming years.
Great comment! Can you tell I love discussing this stuff?
freddy smidlap says
i don’t know if you have ever read this from the brilliant chemist buckminster fuller, but here it its.
“We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”
he said this a long time ago and it really holds true to this day. we’ll figure it out. nice article.
Bucky! Fascinating man! I remember studying him and his geo-domes in architecture school. Also, he wanted all cars to have 3 wheels. That didn’t go quite as well. He had some wild ideas. Just think of how many more Buckys we’d have if we untethered people from the drudgery of work. Thanks for reading, Freddy. And great comment. I have to admit. I had almost forgotten about Buckminster Fuller.