Workers, consumers and depressing myths

 

More robots, enough jobs, and shame on mere “consumers”. Yay!

CartonWrap is a Made in Italy “automatic carton packaging system”:

Workers, consumers and depressing myths /img/cartonwrap.jpg

In May 2019, an italian article explained how the CartonWrap “assembly line” packages each object on its conveyor belt, in real time, with a custom cardboard box just of the exact size, shipping label included. All is left for humans (so far) is to place stuff on one end of the belt, and pick it in boxes at the other end.

This, argues the same article, doesn’t necessarily means further unemployment. The company making CartonWrap employs around 300 people, and allows many more companies to sell their own products, so “this is economy that grows”.

Mother Nature will love this. And so will Karl Marx

Besides, by making in real time just the boxes they actually need, exactly of the sizes they need, CartonWrap greatly reduces the environmental impact of the companies that use it, while increasing their productivity and efficiency. Therefore, “The only certainty is that we are moving towards a world without warehouse workers who package stuff all day long like robots:

Workers, consumers and depressing myths /img/karl-marx-pleased-source-fromwiki_credit-braldtbralds.jpg

“Karl Marx would be pleased… Provided we know how to create other jobs right away, but of better quality.”

The conclusion is that there is no choice: “Let’s just leave repetitive and monotonous work the robots, because if we don’t, they’ll take it anyway.”

“Groups with a very different concept of work”

A few months later, I read an italian comment, with this image as banner:

Workers, consumers and depressing myths /img/worker-like-tyler-durden.jpg

about practically the same topic, that is Labour Market Polarisation. Two paragraphs of that comment got my attention:

“Polarization of jobs leads to a separation between social groups that have very different concepts of work. On one side there are those who play a leading role in the knowledge economy and consider their job as a true expression of their identity. On the other side there those who consider their job only as some complicated ATM, whose only point is to get to the moment when money comes out of it.”

“This polarization may also lead to another divide: if some people find their identity in their work and others find it in consumption; if “workers” are separated from “consumers”; if the first group stays higher in the social hyerarchy and whoever identifies with consumption is at the bottom, then different social tensions arise.”

Half scared, half depressed

I don’t know about you, but I find that young worker above disturbingly similar to Tyler Durden of the Fight Club:

Workers, consumers and depressing myths /img/not-your-job.jpg

Witty quotes aside, the articles linked above are just two of many more that keep presenting the same general vision. A vision that, honestly, half scares, half depresses me. Nothing personal, of course, but scaring and depressing it is. I can’t understand how it keeps going.

First, unreal growth

CartonWrap is not street performance, or some smartphone app. CartonWrap is about manufacturing: making physical containers for physical objects. CartonWrap is about physical “economy that grows”… In a moment when every scientist and their dog is telling the world to stop making stuff, already. NOW! No, not now, yesterday!

Productivity and efficiency in packaging? Even Amazon Prime is monstruously efficient, and look what mess is making.

CartonWrap may very well be the best way ever to package stuff. Long live CartonWrap. But expecting that anything in that sector should, and could ever be “economy that GROWS” in these times seems half unreal, half dangerous.

Second, enough jobs

The idea that we could create enough “other jobs right away, but of better quality” is even more unreal. No way. Ask the experts. Genius is Scarce, period. Even in China.

Third, and worst

The most depressing part of the whole vision (because it is all one vision) is this:

“some people find their identity in their work and others find it in consumption”

It is the perspective, or the assumption, that there are only these two threadmills:

Workers, consumers and depressing myths /img/two-threadmills-consumers-or-workers.jpg
Consumers. Or Workers. Nothing else.

It is the idea that those who not find their identity in a job can’t be anything else but “consumers”. Passive ones. Ballast. If the current polarisation is leading to this, I am hard pressed to find something that would suck more. What about, just to make the easiest example, of people who would give a kidney for the possibility to be stay-at-home parents?

Some lucky people can make of their true identity a gratifying job that pays well. SOME people. Very few. Maybe 0.01% of humankind. Just don’t even try to sell the idea that this should be the norm. Even if it were feasible, which it isn’t.

Again, nothing personal here…

It’s just that in articles like those I keep seeing too much of two things that shouldn’t go unchallenged: one is lack of contact with current reality. You know, the laws of physics, or worldwide trends of stress and anxiety. Not to mention the mathematical probability that more than 0.01% of those who will lose their jobs to automation in the next 1015 years were born with the genetic characteristics they’d need to ever get a “job of better quality”. Like coding, or everything at that level.

The other is a world I do not want to live in, because it has too few choices, and in the wrong order too.

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