Work, Play Extremes

Humanity’s mix of work vs. play has varied over the millennia. Farmers played less less than foragers, and with industry we’ve moved back to, and even past, forager levels of play. In the future, the work-play mix could move in either direction, possibly to extremes.

Pause for a moment to ask yourself: which extreme do you most fear, a mostly-work future, or a mostly-play future? Yes, all else equal play is probably better than work, but all else may not be equal – ask yourself what knowing that a world is mostly-work or mostly-play would tell you about the rest of that world.

Me, I more fear a mostly-play future. I fear a world of people so overwhelmed by the pleasures of music, movies, games, virtual reality, drugs, etc. that they don’t build for the future, or even maintain support structures inherited from the past. Failing to invest in capital or children, humanity shrinks and falls into oblivion.

Yes, there are things to fear about a mostly-work future. Mainly, the opportunity cost of fun not had. Play is often more fun, and even fulfilling, than work. Given a momentary choice, we tend to choose play over work, and for good reason. Even so, I’d expect a mostly-work world to continue to invest and grow, building to a larger population and capacity. So that if later that world devolves into most-play, at least more people will have more fun on the way down.

Notice that this issue suggests that status isn’t such a bad thing. Locally, the possibility of efforts to gain status seem to cause a market failure, as your status gains come at the expense of the status of others. This would seem to make us work too hard to gain status. But since we can more reliably gain status via work than via play, the existence of status pushes us toward work, and away from the more dangerous mostly-play extreme.

I’m not thrilled that the em future I envision is a mostly-work world. But it at least seems safer than the other extreme to which the work-play mix could have evolved.

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