It’s work, but not as we know it
Every era has historically had a main area of work or value-creating activity. Most of us think about employment and occupations as something that emerged with industrial society. During the era of “hunting and gathering,” the family, group and community were engaged in all things required in order to survive and have a decent life. These activities involved hunting, gathering food, making fire, creating clothing and so on.
As we started to cultivate the soil and grow crops, the first settlements emerged. For thousands of years, work for most of the Earth’s population involved farming-related activities associated with the season, the sun and the weather. It was hard to differentiate between what was work and what wasn’t because working hours did not exist. During the feudalist era, farmers worked about 120-150 days a year, even if some of the days could be long during harvest time.
The industrial era shifted focus as people left the farms and fields for the factories. With the factories, a system emerged for working life that included everything from special workplaces (the factories), timetables, division of labor, working days and hours, and some free time, with vacations and retirement coming later. Over the past century, factory workers have been leaving the factories for offices and service occupations. In old industrial countries such as Germany and the UK, about 1.5 percent of the population is working with agriculture, about 20 percent in industry and about 80 percent with services.
As working life changes with the liberation of time and space, with powerful networks and computers, the automation of work and so on, some fundamental questions come in mind. Value creation has historically been closely connected to “work” – it has been the way we create value and a mechanism to distribute value. What will this be like in 20 years, when the sharp borders and divisions of labor as we know them from the industrial era have dissolved?