Work is very important to people. Without work, we wither and die. Perhaps women live longer than men because they know that work comes in many forms other than paid employment.
In the 1960’s I worked as an engineer in Zambia in Southern Africa. I noticed that in the shanty towns life was difficult because many people could not find “paid work." They stole to feed their families. You could not safely leave washing on a line to dry. In the villages, however, everyone was busy. There was no organized employment as we in the West know it but everyone had work to do: clearing land, planting, hunting, transporting, making the necessities of life, resolving differences, teaching, and in spiritual introspection. If you visited a village you could safely leave your truck, or other property unlocked and unattended. I had already travelled in Indian and there too saw little shortage of work in the villages, but lots of misery in the cities to which people were attracted to seek “paid work."
At seventeen I worked in a factory that employed 22,000 people. It was a forty-eight hour working week. Here machine tools were cleaned by apprentices lying on the concrete and scooping the sludge from the machine sump with bare hands. I wondered whether industrial work is a good way to earn a living. Working in the engine room of a ship also tells you that some work is better done by means other than people in temperatures of 130 0F, four hours on, eight off, sixteen months without a day off.
OK, so what about office work? Technology has eliminated the world of slide rules, manual calculators, most of shorthand, all of copy typing, spirit duplicators, manual inventory management, and physical progress chasing. It will continue to replace jobs as the cost of hiring people to do dull, repetitive work increases and this will happen in the less developed regions of the world too. I suspect though that the economic systems that served a world since the building of the pyramids have to change to serve the heavily automated and de-jobbed world of today and the future. Why should this be a surprise?
Thirty years ago community-based economies with local currency systems were springing up in Europe, and North America. In Canada we have seen remarkable growth in small and home-based businesses. Successive governments have reported surpluses in the EI account, notwithstanding periods of rising unemployment. We even see the qualities of village life growing up inside large cities - a restructuring of the way people live and look upon work. Integral with the changes in concepts of work must be developments in systems of government, legislation and in the values set by our faith communities. The mission statement of All Saints Ladner, for example, says “We are a community of faith seeking to know the mind of Christ and to share the love of God”.
I look forward to a world where the repetitious activities of industrial life have not simply been exported but have disappeared. Is it possible to build a world where small-scale, locally based economies are recognized as the means of sustaining happy communities; a world where small voices will be carried by technology to places where information is no longer confused with data, nor wisdom with knowledge? Some institutions may have to change for this to happen, but that could be refreshing too..
Written by Brian Redway