Jobs? They’re so last century, says Seth Godin

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Seth Godin has a new book out, and, as usual, commentary and reviews are all over the Internet. Why? Love him or loathe him, Godin is always thought-provoking. Usually, his topic is marketing, but recently, he used his blog to take on a subject much closer to our hearts here at WebWorkerDaily: the future of work.

He thinks it will result in fewer jobs. Politicians may be wrangling over various approaches to job creation, but the right and left seem to agree that with nine percent unemployment, America needs more jobs. Not Godin. He thinks we need to get over the idea.

Why do we believe that jobs where we are paid really good money to do work that can be systemized, written in a manual and/or exported are going to come back ever? The internet has squeezed inefficiencies out of many systems, and the ability to move work around, coordinate activity and digitize data all combine to eliminate a wide swath of the jobs the industrial age created….

The industrial age, the one that started with the industrial revolution, is fading away. It is no longer the growth engine of the economy and it seems absurd to imagine that great pay for replaceable work is on the horizon.

Godin seems pretty gloomy about Americans’ employment prospects, but he claims that, in fact, he’s an optimist. We may not soon see the return of many jobs, but work is forever, according to Godin.

I’m not a pessimist, though, because the new revolution, the revolution of connection, creates all sorts of new productivity and new opportunities. Not for repetitive factory work, though, not for the sort of thing ADP measures. Most of the wealth created by this revolution doesn’t look like a job, not a full time one anyway.

When everyone has a laptop and connection to the world, then everyone owns a factory. Instead of coming together physically, we have the ability to come together virtually, to earn attention, to connect labor and resources, to deliver value.

Stressful? Of course it is. No one is trained in how to do this, in how to initiate, to visualize, to solve interesting problems and then deliver. Some see the new work as a hodgepodge of little projects, a pale imitation of a ‘real’ job. Others realize that this is a platform for a kind of art, a far more level in which owning a factory isn’t a birthright for a tiny minority but something that hundreds of millions of people have the chance to do.

There are a couple of points worth making about Godin’s vision of the new job-less way of work. First off, Godin’s idea of earning money through “earning attention” doesn’t sound that far off from the ideas of You Are Not a Gadget author Jaron Lanier who argues in this very long, very interesting interview that the only way the Internet won’t destroy the middle class is if we find ways to monetize the products of our “hearts and brains.”

It’s worth pointing out that, level-playing field or no, making something non-replaceable with your heart or brain that will stand out in a crowded marketplace and that others will pay for is a really tall order, as anyone who has ever tried to create a viral video, design a logo or write a story can tell you. Captivating people is far harder than powering through paperwork in accounts payable or repeatedly fabricating the same metal widget. Are enough people capable of doing this to maintain a middle class? Can we train more people for the new economy by altering our education system?

Reservations aside, the fact that lots of steady, location-based, routine jobs are disappearing seems indisputable. Project-based, location-independent, creative work appears to be the way of the future.

Is Godin right that jobs as we once understood them aren’t coming back? Are we ready for this reality?

Image courtesy of Flickr user Hugo90.

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