Time is a nonrenewable resource. We’re comfortable with giving away the majority of our waking hours to labor, but what happens when that labor isn’t needed any longer? Many have predicted the rise of the machines and their replacement of workers. This article looks at a place where the future has already started to happen — a village where automation has left residents without jobs.
Now reformers everywhere may have to resolve the dilemma of toilsome versus leisurely Edens. Much of the world is approaching what Jeremy Rifken calls “the end of work” and, more recently, “the zero marginal cost society.” In a zero marginal cost society, machines and computer algorithms replace virtually all human effort in the production of goods and services.
Rural Andalusia never had much retail, but its interior villages used to grow a variety of crops under the laborious conditions described by Blasco Ibáñez. In the last two decades, however, an almost effortless form of green energy has moved in. Wind turbines now crowd the terrain and there are few jobs, agricultural or otherwise. As an anthropologist, I began visiting a village familiar with these machines, hoping to see how people live with unemployment within a landscape that has been transformed from fields into electrical infrastructure.