Maximizing Participation

When thinking about a technological future, we tend to drift towards robotic automation, then we wonder what humans will do with their time. We usually think of leisure activities, then creativity and art, then crafting for the sake of doing things by hand. In this thought process we end up going full-circle, from having robots doing everything, to humans going back to primitive methodologies.

To phrase it another way, why play basketball if a robot can score more accurately? Because efficiency is not the point, the point is participation and the enjoyment it brings. In this sense, there is no way humanity will reach a fully-automated future, they just won’t want it. Even today we see people rejecting some mass-production in favor of locally crafted products. And there are many who long for “simpler times” who are drawn to the idea of “starting from scratch”, and feel the world has gotten too complex.

If you think about it, efficiency is not the goal of humanity. The most efficient life is the one that ends immediately after birth. The point is participation. Yet how can humans participate if robots do it all? But thinking it through a bit more, what are the tasks we wish to automate? The tedious ones. But what are those? Do these even need to be done, or are they the result of poor planning, perhaps a passing trend, maybe some unnecessary pessimism or greed is involved?

It’s probably best if societies focus on maximizing participation of inhabitants. In a hyper-efficient technological future, we’d likely sit isolated in rooms staring at our telescreens as we live life virtually. But in a participation-focused future we’d each seek a satisfactory role to perform as we contributed our part in our locality. But by necessity, these localities must be small so we can each have a greater impact within it.

The exciting times within a business are not when the bureaucracy sets in after success plateaus and employee count swells. No, the exciting times are during the startup phase when experiments are performed and people are few and each makes his greatest impact with a more meaningful contribution.

It’s possible that automation and participation can work together though. If large societies purposefully divide into smaller autonomous units, then technology and automation could allow these new units to achieve a level of self-sufficiency not previously possible. Small-scale energy production and manufacturing, effortless long-distance communication, and simplified food production could usher in an era of startup societies. And within these small societies, individual contribution would be maximized as people are not mere cogs in their communities, but genuine influencers.

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