The other day I was reading about a guy from Berlin who has been living in a van for more than a year while working as a developer. It first seemed like a dream come true: being able to constantly travel, having endless experiences, the incomparable feeling of freedom. This isn’t the only case: most of my Instagram feed is full of ads about “nomad working” lifestyles, recruiters on Linkedin send remote job offers who state that you can work from anywhere in the world (with an internet connection).
This all seemed beautiful and liberating. Except when you look closer. Most of us aren’t working in paradisiac locations. Most of us have 9 ’till 5 contracts and go to offices, perhaps we can work from home every now and then but the problem is we can still work from anywhere. You can work from home after a 8 hour shift at the office. You can still receive and send messages or e-mails to your phone while you’re having dinner with the people you care for. You can even bring your computer on your holidays “just in case”.
You might first think that people obviously will choose not to do these things. Here’s the worrying part though: after almost 50 years since the neoliberal project started, most people’s lives are monetized in terms of how much economic value they can generate. We live in constant anxiety to become better at our work and to have hobbies that align with the profession we decided to pursue. The fact that some people work 14 hours a day to exhaustion is seen as “passion”. Consequently, the fact that we can work from anywhere, anytime, but choose not to is seen as negligence.
People need to ruthlessly compete with each other for the few jobs that pay decently well in the current job market. Unemployment is reaching sky high levels that have been superficially reduced by creating 0 hours contracts and temporary jobs. Jobs that pay barely above poverty levels. All this made possible because neoliberalism’s main goal has always been to break down union’s bargaining power, making it harder each time for workers to have any saying in how corporations are managed. And, unfortunately, the neoliberal project has been really fucking efficient at what it’s meant to achieve.
How exactly has technology helped install corporate control over people’s lives? The average worker’s job have been reduced to narrow, redundant tasks that can be easily replaced by machines. Additionally, we have developed increasingly worrying surveillance software and methods to track people’s movements. Amazon, for example, has a patent on a “ultrasonic bracelet” meant to track its worker’s hand movements. Makes you wonder if a company where employees rather pee in bottles because they are too anxious to even take bathroom breaks should even consider having a patent on this kind of technology.
Technology was meant to liberate us. It has done nothing but to enslave us.
As Prime Minister in the 1950s, Winston Churchill saw a time when accelerating technological advancement would enable us to “give the working man what he’s never had — four days’ work and then three days’ fun”. Even though technology is already reaching a tipping point where machines become a lot better than humans at a lot of tasks, the four-day work week seems further than ever to become reality. People are increasingly willing to work overtime and do unpaid work just to increase their value.
The shift to automation has only benefited the already rich, the 1%, not the 99%. We have been losing the struggle for equality and fairness in the name of the “entrepreneurial spirit”. The contemporary working class is a much poorer one than the one 2 generations back; the time when a single income could buy you a car, a house and sustain a family is gone. Something went wrong and we can all see what the results are: Trump, Brexit, the rise of neo-nazi parties in Europe: Marine Le Pen in France, the AfD in Germany, Lega Nord in Italy. Just this week the German town of Chemnitz held a neo-nazi rally which more than 5000 people attended.
All this can only mean one thing: people are fucking angry. They are angry at something, however most of this anger has ended up being misplaced in migrants, refugees and even their ally neighboring countries.
The neoliberal project has been placing power in just a handful of rich people with no accountability. One of the affected sectors is the media: in the US 90% of the media outlets are owned by just 5 companies. Misinformation and an irresponsible media has been fueling anger and fear. It wasn’t millions of refugees and migrants fleeing conflict and persecution into western countries who caused the biggest financial crisis of our time leading us to the mess we’re in. It was a handful of bankers who never faced repercussions; instead, they ended up becoming richer after being bailed out by tax-payer money and making everyone else poorer. These events ended up getting little to no importance in media outlets. At the same time, every occasion where a migrant commits a crime is exploited for months by the media as a way to increase ratings.
Capitalism has failed us. The so called “experts” have failed us. We need another system. Capitalism can’t sustain the kind of abundance, automation and efficiency it has created. It is time for us, the 99% to demand back what our collective knowledge and work has created. It is time for the 1% to step back and let the people who have created actual value collect the fruits of their effort. It is time for us to demand utopia.