The Phase Transition series is devoted to our current phase transition, through which we stumble since the late 1960s. The transition from a society based on serial industrial production and mass hierarchical structures toward a (co)decision society. It is a transition in its early, faltering stage and with an unknown outcome.
From the 1930s to the 1970s, there was a widespread belief in the inevitability of the transition to a society where work would no longer be a survival necessity, but rather a matter of choice. Where simple tasks will be taken over by automated machines, while people, relieved of routine works, will be be left with only more complex tasks of machine design and control as well as decision-making.
In Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren (1930), John Maynard Keynes, for instance, announced, that ‘problems of economic necessity will be basically taken away from more and more groups of people’ and predicted the reduction of a working day to three hours. The philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote in the late 1950s: ‘Although we do not have a real idea about this, we already know that factories will be emptied in a few years and that humanity will get rid of the weight of work and the yoke of necessity.’ Moreover, Richta’s Group at the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences and Arts in the second half of the 1960s, saw automation as a path to a society in which ‘each individual has an opportunity to use the power of scientific knowledge and shape their own existence on the basis of true human sense of life.’
From the 1980s on, things turned out quite differently. The working day has not been shortened, quite the opposite. Low-skilled jobs have not disappeared, they are just paid less. The percentage of low-paid jobs increased and the percentage of well-paid ones decreased. The control over a large part of technological development, in addition, has become even more concentrated, both in terms of ownership and physically.
What happened? How come that between the 1930s and 1970s all those acclaimed thinkers were so wrong in their estimates of historical trends?