Technology has brought us automation through AI, the Internet, Paperless Offices and much more. Nowadays, everything is changing at a rapid pace. We invent technologies that substitute human labour, aiming and forcing our lives to be simpler. In her bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo paves the way for minimalism in our households.
It is undeniable that simplicity is appealing. After all, isn’t it easier and necessarily better for every aspect of our lives?
All of us try to achieve psychological wellbeing in our lives by giving a structure to our days. We like to have regular social interactions and to feel required by our environment — we want to be significant. Spending approximately 80,000 hours at work in a whole lifetime, work apparently makes up a huge part of one’s daily routine and environment.
When I talk to my grandparents, they tell me with a smile on their face how their whole working life was followed by advancements and appreciation. Coming from a generation of people mostly having one job for their entire lives, they experienced rising responsibility which led to commitment and satisfaction.
Nowadays, picking a major for university is a hard choice for most students as they don’t know which careers will still be relevant when they graduate. Our labour market changes rapidly. From algorithmic asset management, there is a 95 per cent risk of automation for accountants and many others. Such headlines dominate the news. But it’s not only jobs, it’s our lifestyle too with self-employment being more likely in the future. These issues especially affect those belonging to Generation Z, that will soon enter the job market with great trepidation and uncertainty.
Innovations such as Paperless Offices and AI gadgets — at least in theory — offer the promise of improved time management, with fewer work hours and more time available for creative tasks. But it’s not just administrative work which is affected by improved technologies, but also jobs that require higher education. Processing the right data, AI in healthcare can diagnose faster and with a higher probability of correct diagnoses as opposed to having doctors. At least objectively, this is not a bad result.
In fact, we gain more time when certain tasks become automated. But do we still feel valued? People don’t just want to be complementaries to machines. We have the innate need to feel fulfilment, which is not only achieved by increasing objective productivity. Keeping in mind the consequences of Soviet history, people clearly need incentives for engaging in progress. Our focus should not be solely on inventing new technologies, but on adapting these technologies to enrich our lives. When technicology leads to simplicity, which then causes us to feel unfulfilled, we should ask ourselves why we continue to strive for endless growth which seems to go hand-in- hand with personal deadening.
As depression rates soar, it seems like our generation is urgently looking for a way to deal with our changing world. In the past, people had to deal with war and other issues preventing them from fulfilling their physiological needs. Coming back to my grandparents, their lives had started with many problems and they found themselves in a bombed city where people were happy to be able to share a flat with three other families. In the Western world, our generation faces a different challenge: finding esteem and self-actualization. And this is no trivial task. After all, how can we handle the current changes in order to live a good life, as we find ourselves at a different stage of needs that seem to require a different approach?
The psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes the state of ‘being fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus’ as flow. Let us have more of such flow moments and real commitment, because they are what apparently induce drive and satisfaction. Flow moments can be generated through new tasks that suit personal abilities and should be carried out without time pressure. Automation gives us this chance; to focus on creative tasks with our full attention. Being able to shut down devices and concentrate one’s attention is a vital skill in a world where even our washing machine can be connected to the Internet. We must use the technologies we invented, purposefully, and not have our time be imprisoned by them.
We should also place more emphasis on our relationships. The move towards self-employment marks the end of the employer-employee relationship, which can feel isolating. But why not use the extra time — whether self-employed or not — to get in touch with other people, to discuss ideas and to create a stimulating environment for ourselves that saves us from detachment?
Change and uncertainty have always been constants for human beings. Nothing has changed in this regard, which is why it is our duty to handle the current shifts intelligently and foster their accompanying opportunities.
Life should not only be about objective optimization, but about subjective fulfilment. And we must always question what innovation brings to us as a human race and as passionate individuals.