Jeremy Rifkin, in his essay "The End of Work", sets forth the idea that technology, together with new management philosophies, has led to a situation where computers are replacing working humans, not only in low-level, mundane jobs but also in middle and upper level positions. The social changes wrought by this technological shift and others yet to come will create a world where the demand for human labor will be reduced to the extent that there will not be a sufficient number of "living wage" jobs available for everyone. The question of what level of unemployment is acceptable is one that is beginning to confront us. What follows is my response to this essay that was written for my class on Technology and Human Values.
If, as Rifkin predicts, we do see the dawn of a post-employment economy the most crucial adjustments will not necessarily be the inevitable social changes brought about by such a drastic alteration in lifestyle. Rather, the most important changes will take place within the internal worlds of very individual former worker. With the absence of the societal roles that work creates, a paradigm shift of immense proportions will cause every individual to question his or her true place in the world.
No longer will people be able to hide behind the convenient labels of waiter or gas attendant. One of our most precious methods of defining ourselves will be stripped away and anyone willing to participate will find themselves in a profound existential quandary. Who are we when viewed without the descriptive terms thrust upon us by the external world? There are no easy answers, and those that are given will doubtlessly be varied and conflicting. Personally, I hope that such a situation would allow me the opportunity to further explore my life and the lives of those around me. Whatever the case may be, man's search for meaning is entering a new and exciting phase. With luck, this step in our philosophical development will prove to be a productive one..