Today, less than 5% of our labor force is working to create food in industrialized countries. That is a dramatic shift from the thousands of years prior.
It’s important to note that as we moved from an age of agriculture to industrialism that jobs didn’t go away. But instead, we created new jobs in factories that never existed before.
And so the cycle continues, as we stand on the precipice of the age of AI.
As Albert Wenger has brilliantly pointed out, though, the way to read this chart isn’t to assume that AI will create different jobs for us to take. No, what Wenger argues is that now is the time to step out of the job loop.
What is the job loop?
The job loop is having a car payment so that I can get to work, I go to work so that I can pay for my car payment. We sell our labor to buy stuff and then you turn around and sell more labor to buy more stuff. In the process, creating a negative cycle of losing our time and attention.
The point of innovation isn’t to create more jobs to distract us and to fill discretionary time but to cultivate time and attention to solve interesting problems like democracy, climate change, nuclear weapons disarmament, healthcare….to create art.
We have more time than ever before in human history but we misuse it in all the wrong ways. Instead, we have let tech companies mind our attention and distract us from what is happening all around us.
There are now enough cat videos to watch for a lifetime. This one may be the weirdest:
Our attention is our most precious resource. How are you spending it? (Interesting word spend.)
Another thought about discretionary time: We have worked and innovated for so long to move away from the obligations in the fields, to build safety and security from the elements, to create lifesaving drugs to fight the invisible…for what? To waste away in distraction? Having discretionary time is a luxury that not even everyone gets to enjoy today (and certainly not what previous generations had.) Are we really that eager to sit around and wait until we are told what to do next?