"The average working week was now twenty hours … but those twenty hours were no sinecure. There was little work left of a routine, mechanical nature. Men's minds were too valuable to waste on tasks that a few thousand transistors, some photoelectric cells, and a cubic meter of printed circuits could perform. There were factories that ran for weeks without being visited by a single human being. Men were needed for trouble-shooting, for making decisions, for planning new enterprises. The robots did the rest.
The existence of so much leisure would have created tremendous problems a century before. Education had overcome most of these, for a well-stocked mind is safe from boredom. The general standard of culture was at a level which would have once seemed fantastic. There was no evidence that the intelligence of the human race had improved, but for the first time everyone was given the fullest opportunity of using what brain he had…
People could indulge in such whims, because they had both the time and the money. The abolition of armed forces had at once doubled the world's effective wealthy, and increased production had done the rest. As a result, it was difficult to compare the standard of living of twenty-first century man with that of any of his predecessors. Everything was so cheap that the necessities of life were provided free, provided as a public service by the community, as the roads, water, street lighting, and drainage had once been. A man could travel anywhere he pleased, eat whatever food he fancied without handing over any money. He had earned the right to do this by being a productive member of the community.
There were, of course, some drones, but the number of people sufficiently strong-willed to indulge in a life of complete idleness is much smaller than is generally supposed. Supporting such parasites was considerably less of a burden than providing for the armies of ticket collectors, shop assistants, bank clerks, stockbrokers, and so forth, whose main function, when one took the global point of view, was to transfer items from one ledger to another." Arthur Clarke, Childhood's End, 1956
I think of this quote often wishing to make it so. Some people read this and scoff at the notion claiming that people would simply be lazy living in a socialist state. Human nature, they claim, is to be idle and corrupt. But I don't think so. I believe that the society that Clarke sets forth is extremely interesting in that it unfolds a world where real ingenuity and meaning is realized. Work becomes an advocation where many skills and talents are recognized. People progress through the years learning more and more. Work can be selected for the psychological and emotional needs of the individual. Easy work that allows the mind to relax and renew; stimulating work that challenges every part of the body; family years; etc.
When I read the news today and hear of all the people out of work, the mortgages falling into disarray; people walking away from all they thought was secure just a year ago my mind starts to play with scenarios. Could it be the ending of our childhood? It is scary, not just for others, but for me as well. Yet, I wonder, could we actually be in the becoming of our singularity moment where the world changes so dramatically ... for the better? How will we know?
I find myself creating a vision of There, somewhat like in Clarke's novel and then asking myself, given today's falling apart, is it possible to to wayfind our way through apparent disaster and into the phoenix of a radically new world? Somehow I think so. Drexler's Engines of Creation; Ray Kurtweil's work; and many others provide glimpses into a "perhaps" sense that this could be true.
I have not reread Childhood's End for many years but in my memory, it took aliens to help us get our priorities right. Is this necessary? What are the alternatives for doing this for ourselves? Also, when Clarke wrote his story in 1956, education, while not very adaptive, was doing a remarkable job of educating. Sadly, this is not so today. But, whatever, in my mind for this to happen, things will cease mattering. Money and power will play differently. Many of the things we hold so dearly, fight for so profoundly will escape to a higher order and we will look back on them differently.
Anyone want to join my wayfinding exercise? Can we find bits and pieces in the apparent destructive chaos in our news and lives of today that are actually the seeds of a world as Clarke portrays? If so, it will be filled with many surprises, breakthroughs, mind shifts and letting go by choice or not. It will not be easy or smooth but I claim it as a real possibility. The question is can we see it and find our way to there? Assume it so, then how many generations will it take? How will we clear the way for our sons and daughters, for their children? What is our path? How do we begin to shape this "long now moment"? Our work is not to copy Clarke but to use the ideas in the book as a scaffolding to unfold a world larger, more wonderous then our imaginations can carry us.