When will work end? I don’t mean when will it end for you today; I can only assume that you are breathlessly checking for updates on this site as soon as you roll into work. I mean overall: will there ever be a time when our technology becomes so efficient that, for the most part, we don’t need to work? Will that be a good thing? How will we react as a society?
In a provocative essay for The Atlantic, Derek Fisher argues that this will ultimately be a good thing. It’ll require a rewriting of the social contract, but as long as overall economic efficiency isn’t hurt, it’ll free people to live better and more fulfilling lives. That is the hazy promise of technology.
That day may never come, and it may not be a good thing. Right now, we are lurching into a transitional period. Everything seems revolutionary, and it is, but we are basically at the stage of a waterwheel when the river begins to trickle toward it. We’re going to progress in stages, moving fitfully toward the future. We’re currently at the point where people are harnessing mobile technology to change every job – to make them easier, more efficient, and more productive. It’s here where we can see the outline of the next stages, but for the moment, companies like San Francisco’s Limelight are just sketching the exciting present.
San Francisco’s Limelight: A Mobile Insurance Solution
On Monday, Limelight, a San Francisco company, announced a round of funding in which they raised $3 million, putting them smack into, well, the limelight. The company has developed an app which they believe can change the insurance business forever, particularly employee benefits, making it faster and considerably more effective.
Their app, called QuotePad, is a way to present to employees the various permutations of possibilities involved in their benefit plans. Benefits plans can be very confusing, and each time you make an adjustment it changes the whole system. This leads to contradictions, misunderstandings, frustrations, and eventually, people giving up. It’s a waste of time for everyone involved.
QuotePad tried to change all that. With this new app, insurance agents can quickly harness information from streams like census data, and can adjust potential contributions in order to show an employee the ramifications of each choice. For instance, if you put 5% of your paycheck into your 401(k) starting now, adjusted for census data and actuarial projections, you’ll end up with X amount of dollars, whereas if you do 4% for 10 years and 5% thereafter, you’ll end up with Y. It makes things clear and lays them out so that there isn’t any ambiguity.
This will save time and money. According to Jason Andrew, co-founder and CEO of Limelight health, “With $375 billion wasted each year on billing and health insurance paperwork, there is tremendous opportunity for the right technology solution to reduce unnecessary administrative tasks and inefficiencies in workflow.”
That’s sort of the point: everything laid out in one place, easy to use, without waste. That’s the ideal of work, eliminating headaches and irritations. Will this model be able to apply to other jobs?
Will Less Work Mean Less Work – Or More?
One of the remarked-upon paradoxes of the Information Age – and specifically regarding mobile tech – is that it has, for many people, led to more work, not less. After all, you can get a lot more done during the day, so why shouldn’t you? I think we’re reaching a tipping point, though, and apps like Limelight are going to help.
We’ve moved to the point where you can get so much work done every day, for good or for ill, but at some point, there is only so much you can do. Think about insurance, and let’s take an overly-simple but still instructive example. Let’s say you are an agent and have to sign up everyone in a particular company of 100 employees. You used to be able to get to maybe 10 people a day, if you were lucky. Now you can get to 25, and by next year you’ll be able to get to 50 people. What used to take two weeks now takes two days.
Sure, that means you can move on to the next company of 100, but that’ll only take two days, and so it’s on to the next. At some point, though, you run out of companies. We’ve accomplished everything we need to accomplish in a fraction of the time ever though possible, without sacrificing any economic gain.
That’s where mobile tech, our apps, and the Information Age can change work. There is only so much work to do. Right now, for many of us, that seems like an impossible mountain, but it can be scaled. When nonsense headaches based on inefficient practices are negated by our devices, we will suddenly have free time, without hurting the bottom line. And, for the foreseeable future, these jobs will all still require a human touch. Artificial intelligence is coming on strong, but it still has a ways to go.
This can help with every job, including manual labor, by sussing out inefficiencies and instituting best practices. Interestingly, the only thing it won’t be able to help are creative jobs – another sign that humanity is unlikely to replace itself. Thanks to mobile tech, work won’t ever be the same. It’s up to us to make that work.