The Future of Distraction

Read on Medium & Forbes. 

While away for New Years with two friends working in the VC industry, a short car ride through the flat Palm Springs led to deep discussion about what the future looks like.

I always assumed that VCs agreed on this. They’re investing in roughly the same industries, right?

The reality was two people in the same line of work but two very different views on the world of tomorrow.

A robotic communist jobless future full of fun

One thing we did agree on was the rise of AI, machine learning, robotics & automation technology leading to a future that looks increasingly jobless for the majority of the world’s population.

It’s been known for a while. Four years ago, Carl Benedikt Frey & Michael Osborne of Oxford University estimated that 47% of total US employment is at risk from “computerisation”.

Given the current rate of advancement in these technologies, that number could well be higher. With the global population expected to hit 9 billion in the next 50 years, there’s going to be a lot of people with a lot of free time.

There are those who argue that human jobs are not doomed, given that the value of human judgment increases as prediction skills & costs decrease, creating demand for judgement-skill based jobs.

However, whether robots will or won’t take most of our jobs isn’t what this discussion is about. I work in gaming & gambling, so I’m writing to explore what happens to the entertainment industry under the assumption most jobs will be automated.

We’re going to gamble, game & consume

This argument isn’t flattering of the human race’s ambitions but seems more realistic in the short term.

The idea of a universal basic income to supplement the jobless masses may lead to swathes of people left with nothing to do but spend & be entertained. VR gambling, an activity that sounds as time-sapping as anything, is predicted to grow 800% by 2021.

It’s easy to paint a dystopian picture of everyone lost in VR headsets, driverless cars transporting ad watching commuters to nowhere & casinos full of bored yet compensated members of society.

However, for better or worse, it seems likely that a decline in full-time work & increase in free time will lead to an increase in demand for entertainment.

It’s a question of time

This combination of free time & potentially a guaranteed income in the short-run almost certainly leads to an entertainment industry boom.

People have more time, no worries about work & are from today entering into a habit loop of distraction.

“Ah my starter is here, better Snapchat it so Helen can see I eat healthy again.”

Just think of the current landscape of tech entertainment;

This is all while most of us hold down a 9–5 job every weekday!

These movements suggest the first few years of a jobless society will be where people will have more time to be distracted & entertained.

Is distraction so bad?

Let’s VR in its current state. Sure, most are excited to use it for gaming or watching fully immersive films. Yet Zuckerberg & others have shown us the potential of VR to go beyond just entertainment. VR will allow us to create in a capacity that extends our current capabilities.

As Musk puts it “people have time to do other things, more complex things, more interesting things. And they would have more leisure time.”

The exploration of entertainment, creativity & learning will create opportunities for growth into newly defined ideas. This period of transition, where we’re distracted, is vital if we’re to accelerate as a human race.

We need to finally be distracted by things we care about.

It’s accepted that our work shapes who we become, so we assume that losing our jobs means losing our identities. Yet extended periods of entertainment & leisure time is where we’ll begin to get creative, to play around, explore & enjoy ourselves. We’ll break down the definitions of what defines us & attach new meaning to our lives.

That growth will come from a “Transitional Generation” when it arrives. One born into Universal Basic Income. One taught history lessons about jobs and work, who know nothing else but time & freedom to explore themselves & their capabilities.

The new age of entertainment is the first step.