It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
The paradigm was The Jetsons. Someday robots will do all our work for us, and we will live lives of leisure (as filtered through whatever the suburban middle class white paradigm of the Mad Men era decreed). The notion that we would work more and more for less and less didn’t really factor into it. Certainly the idea that you could be reduced to a human robot in the service of a phone algorithm, so that millennial Eloi in San Francisco can have you do for them what their mother doesn’t anymore, was never part of the plan.
(It also wasn’t part of the plan that Uber and Lyft, which are definitely absolutely positively not taxi companies, no sir, would end up representing one out of every seven cars on the streets of San Francisco, some of them driven from two hours away in search of gig income. But I digress.)
The problem is that we need money. Because money is the quickest way to achieve freedom from consequences. Have enough money and it doesn’t matter what happens, for the most part. Have enough money and you can live somewhere safer, be more secure in life, not be at the mercy of every little thing. And what is the fastest way to get money? Have someone hand it to you. What’s the fastest way to have money handed to you? Be famous. What’s the fastest way to be famous? Social media sideshow freak – sorry, “creator” or “influencer”.
Which makes sense, because we’re building a world around selfish egotism. See above about ridesharing being one-seventh of the traffic in the city; if it seems like it’s impossible to get around San Francisco these days, maybe it’s because of a double-digit increase in vehicle traffic that simply wasn’t there before. Susan Faludi touched on this in Backlash: the paradigm of masculinity went from being a good soldier and a team player to being the biggest swinging dick on the block. Abuse the commons for fun and profit? I Got Mine, Fuck You? Spartan worship and rugged individualism as the only way forward, no matter whether there’s a way forward or not?
I mean, think about it. People act as if separate vacation and sick leave, or defined-benefit pensions, or a modicum of job security are some kind of wild-eyed socialist plot. Instead, they’re the things that used to be there for everyone, and are now only around for the most legacy class of government employees or certain nonprofit corners of academia or the like. Vacation, sick leave and even paid holidays are now bundled up into “PTO” that you can choose to take whenever you like – including when you get sick or if the calendar says December 25 or July 4. Pensions become 401k plans and you have the choice of how to invest your retirement, either going against the predators of Wall Street yourself or paying them protection money to shepherd your life savings through the swamp. Retirement? Why would you want to retire if you could still be crushing it at age 70? Get out there, you hard charging hustler, and show that just because you’re a grandparent is no reason you can’t work just as hard as a kid straight out of college with six figures of debt!
There were things that were absolutely taken for granted a generation ago that are presently classed as unrealistic expectations, and which will be construed as a fantasyland that never existed within another generation. Time was, each generation wanted their kids to do better than they did – and now the Boomers have essentially pulled the ladder up to make sure they got theirs, no matter the cost. The only way you can avoid the spectacle of an endless grind for fifty years is to somehow come up with as much money as possible as quickly as possible. No wonder the kids are all trying to get rich quick, because nobody has enough life left to get rich slow any more.