History of Work

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A Social Scientific study about how humans evolved over the long years with regards to doing “work”. When we talk about work in the modern age we typically think about it as labor, either physical or increasingly mental as we shift to white collared workers, that we perform in exchange for money, which is an agreed upon currency, for which we use it to exchange for goods and services to meet our needs or desires.

In the hunter-gatherer era, work was a short-term affair where if you didn’t work (hunting or gathering food), you were going to starve, but now work is seen as a something long term, where you could “save up” currency earned in doing work for a future purchase (a house or a car). This change in mindset lead to a very hedonistic treadmill where knowing that the more we accumulate, the more returns we can attain, and there is seemly no limit to the returns, thus we become afflicted by the “malady of infinite aspiration”, pushing to work harder and longer, and saying phrases like “time is money”. The sooner we see past this illusion, and recognize the diminishing returns the value of money brings, the sooner we can relive ourselves from the mentally torturous treadmill.

Achieving higher energy sources from food (Cooking, Agriculture, Farming) also changed how humans spent their time. With the abundance of energy efficiently, we no longer have to go on 6 hour hunts for food, and this lead to us having an abundance of free time. It is argued that this free time gained allowed pre-historic humans to engage in other creative and social activities, thus evolving our brains further. From this rose “non-energy essential activities” like art. As time progressed, and as we shifted to the early ages of farming, we seemed to have lost this free time as we had to grow crops efficiently according to the season and location, and not doing so would mean mass starvation. This lead to the Malthusian Theory, which stated that “food production will not be able to keep up with growth in the human population, resulting in disease, famine, war, and calamity.” With every human born, more humans were required to grow food to sustain that human, thus leading to a vicious cycle of population growth, eventually collapsing. However, with advances in technology to cultivate and cross-mutate more resilient crops, this lead to lesser humans required to grow food, thus ultimately disproving the Malthusian Theory.

Work was also never so specialized compared to the modern world. Today, we have hyper-specialized roles (e.g. IT->Programming->Software->Backend->Database Administrator), which has lead to a fragmentation of society, and a seemingly loss of sense of community. There is a high chance that in a group meeting of several friends, none of you work in the same industry, or same role, or same work. This sense of dissociation is called the “anomie”, which has lead to antisocial behavior, suicide and increased anxiety. Therefore, although a country experiences a huge surge in wealth, it must take care that it’s population does not fragment.

This book is about the history of work, and it did just that. What it did not provide or elaborate on, which I was hoping it did when I got this book, was the connection between purpose and work, and the future evolutionary attitudes humans would have towards work.


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