Robots, Work & Meaning of Life – 38879/38880 – ENGL 244 – 04/05

Professor: Franklin Foer

How many jobs will disappear when the robots arrive? I mean, when they really arrive. If you want a sobering view, read the McKinsey Automation Report. Current technologies, if fully deployed, could automate 45 percent of all activities that humans are now paid to perform. Over time–and perhaps over a short time–machines will render most work as we know it obsolete. You will begin your careers in the midst of this revolution. Humanity will be stuck pondering the question: Should we cheer or fear the robots? Do we want to try to preserve work? Is there anything about work that is worth preserving? What about it should we happily sweep into history’s dustbin? Of course, we will chew over these larger social questions–and that will lead us into debates about the nature of American capitalism. But the primary goal of this seven week module is to learn how to think self-consciously about work, in the face of tectonic societal shifts and in the face of all the big decisions awaiting your own careers. Work is an activity that already consumes so many of your waking hours. Why do you do it? Or to paraphrase Bartleby the Scrivener, would you prefer not to? When is work meaningful? And what does that question even mean? Western culture has often regarded work as a fixed human institution, descended from Adam and Eve. But one of the primary themes of the class is the fluidity of work as it is lived and experienced–an institution constantly in flux. We’ll examine work as a historical construct– a product of economic, racial, and gender systems. We’ll think hard about social class and how the shape of work shifts over time. Our tour will be proudly eclectic. The texts in the class come from literature, political theory, sociology, and journalism. We’ll consider the intellectual merits of plumbing and motorcycle maintenance. We’ll look at feminist indictments of housework and the history of the weekend. We will talk about the careers of those you know more intimately–and how you’ve begun to think about where you might head.

  • Categories:
    2020 Spring Semester, Course Archive, Humanities, Humanity + Technology, Humanity and Technology Spring 2020
  • Spring
    Module A and B

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