But Who Is Going to Pick Up the Trash at the Collaborative Commons?

Image: D. Levinson

If you’re reading this at your desk at work—well, how terribly old-fashioned of you.

Social theorist Jeremy Rifkin, in his new book The Zero Marginal Cost Society, says we’re on the verge of a whole different kind of economy—one in which many goods and services are abundant and extremely low cost; people are looking for access (think Zipcar) rather than ownership in a “collaborative, global commons”; and technology is freeing people from the tyranny of traditional factory or cubicle jobs.

“The automation of work across every sector of the market economy is already beginning to free up human labor to migrate to the evolving social economy,” Rifkin writes. “If the steam engine freed human beings from feudal bondage to pursue material self-interest in the capitalist marketplace, the Internet of Things frees human beings from the market economy to pursue nonmaterial shared interests on the Collaborative Commons. . . . Intelligent technology will do most of the heavy lifting in an economy centered on abundance rather than scarcity.

“A half century from now,” Rifkin continues, “our grandchildren are likely to look back at the era of mass employment in the market with the same sense of utter disbelief as we look upon slavery and serfdom in former times.”

As we’ve noted, Peter Drucker heard lots of talk over many, many decades about technology wiping out all manner of work, and he was skeptical of that vision.

But even more fundamentally, Drucker questioned whether such a vision was very appealing in the first place, given that many people derive satisfaction from job and career.

“The workless society of the futurist Utopia may, indeed, be ahead,” Drucker wrote in his 1973 book Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. “Should it come, it would, however, produce a major personality crisis for most people. It is perhaps fortunate that so far there is not the slightest sign of the end of work in the near future. So far the task is still to make work serve the psychological need of workers.”

What do you think? Would moving from a world of traditional jobs to one in which people pursue “nonmaterial shared interests” be a good thing?