Freedom to Work

By: Corey Henderson  |  Our Voice Contributor

All throughout the history of humanity, the freedom to work (or lack thereof) has driven what we do with our day. No, I’m not talking about the freedom from an oppressive government or poor economy, but rather the freedom from an oppressive circumstance. The more work you have to do to simply survive, the less freedom you have to work on other things.

The most basic example of this is life prior to the industrial revolution, when farming was a common job. Laborers spent their entire days in the field; plowing, pruning, harvesting. Collectively, society put a large percentage of production hours into the cultivation of food. There wasn’t the freedom to do much else with that time, as a basic need of survival required so much work.

Introduce the invention of the tractor, among other things, and suddenly you have a lot less people working on the farm. These miraculous devices gave humans the freedom to work on other, more interesting things. It’s a first principle of physics; the less energy you spend on something, the more energy you have to spend on something else. This applies to both the smallest and largest of scales.

Now introduce the invention of the moving assembly line, which enabled our current consumer culture. The cost per unit of product went drastically down, because less physical labor went into producing them. That meant we as a society had more money to do other things with. We got other jobs because we had the time available, and could now afford what we couldn’t before because it was cheaper to produce.

Of course, one way to look at this is the loss of jobs. All those farmers, all those factory employees now out of work, displaced by technology. Sure, an old industry that issued paychecks has collapsed into automation. But what’s left in its wake is a whole gob of time on people’s hands to do other work. Things that weren’t possible before because nobody had the time, are suddenly now possible. Ever heard the phrase “losing my job was the best thing that ever happened to me”? That’s because it gave them the freedom to work on something else. A freedom that sometimes requires a catalyst … like losing your job.

Where did any modern technology company come from? It came from people who had the time, the freedom to work on creating those companies. They didn’t have to work in the field for their food, they didn’t have to go to the factory to build their gadgets. Our society has become so efficient that most of us don’t put any thought into the complex systems that make our modern lives possible, or that fact that efficient use of energy, time, and work is what got us here.

Where do we go from here? What’s the next big driver of efficiency that’ll enable another industrial revolution?

Transport. Think about how much work goes into driving our society (literally). Anything and everything in your home got there from transport. Transport requires fuel. That fuel had to come from somewhere. Oil had to be found, dug up, moved, processed into gasoline, moved again, and dispensed. That’s a lot of work just to make things move. It just so happens that most of our electricity goes through the very same process of work, as gasoline and coal are both hydrocarbons that are found in the ground.

What if we could fuel our transportation vehicles without the rigmarole that is processed hydrocarbons? Likewise, what if we could power our businesses and our homes the same way? Back to the first principles of physics, we’d be cutting away a very large portion of where our society puts its energy, freeing it up to do other things. We’d also be freeing ourselves from dependence of foreign nations in the process.

We have the technology already. Solar panels and electric cars. You build and install the solar panel once, and it sits there producing electricity for decades, giving energy workers the freedom to work elsewhere. You fuel your electric vehicle, your home, and your business off that power, giving refinery and energy transport workers the freedom to work elsewhere.

Yes, it’s a big up front investment. Yes, some industries will suffer as a result. That’s exactly how humanity has, time after time, advanced further into the future. We should put as much work as possible into advancing the adoption of these technologies, if for no other reason than to increase the efficiency of our society.

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