The Industrial Work Script Is Dead & Traveling Villages | #218
April 8th, 2023: Greetings from Austin! We attempted a family photo this week and despite the rogue tissue, it came out pretty well. So meet Michelle:
My friend is hosting his first virtual cooking experiment and will help people make homemade corn tortillas. He’s the person that got me excited to really dive into cooking so it should be amazing. I’ll be there. You can join us for $30. (no affiliate)
Industrially Deficient Scripts
Ben Hunt has this amazing idea of the “industrially necessary” script in the US. It was a story born out of the post-WW-II era and goes a little like this:
We are the leading industrial superpower and we almost lost it all. We need to make sure we double down on our advantages and build the strongest economy in the world. This requires people to do their duty as workers. Find a job, stay employed, and play by the rules and we will all do great. Help our companies succeed and everyone will prosper.
This is essentially what I call the default path and it worked pretty well. The generations that came of age after World War II almost universally did better than their parents and this trend continued for some time. Morgan Housel, who has written some of the best writing about this shift, shares the fact that from 1950 to 1980, “real income for the bottom 20% of wage-earners grew by a nearly identical amount as the top 5%.”
Everyone was winning together, meaning there was a virtuous cycle between following the default path and what people were experiencing in their lives.
Except sometime in the late 20th century, perhaps the 70s, 80s, or 90s depending on who you ask, the default path story shifted from something that was necessary to be merely preferable for the leaders that were atop all of these institutions. Part of this is because many people were simply not able to be included anymore. Housel points to a quote that highlights this disconnect from The Atlantic: “Between 1993 and 2012, the top 1 percent saw their incomes grow 86.1 percent, while the bottom 99 percent saw just 6.6 percent growth.”
While those with the right credentials or educational stamps of approval could ride the economic rocketship of globalization and technology, many others were left behind. Leaders of institutions knew that they couldn’t say with a straight face that committing to the default path was a viable path for everyone but they also couldn’t not say it either. After all, the bonuses of them and their peers relied on people not asking too many questions.
But the cracks were everywhere.
The boomer generation saw this up close. A lot of people point to the boomers as categorically successful. And while there is certainly some truth to that. In the workplace, they were the biggest generation at every point in their lives. Yet the “boomers crushed it” narrative is incomplete. Just ask anyone over 55 if they have any bad stories about work and careers. Almost everyone I’ve talked to has a terrible story about layoffs, pensions being taken away, abuse at work, or sexual harassment.
It’s just that for them it was adaptive to keep buying into the story of the default path. There weren’t viable alternatives or off-ramps.
As a Millennial, I accepted the story of the default path but a far more cynical version of it after growing up seeing so many people in my parent’s generation get randomly laid off. My reaction to this was to focus on maximizing my own gains, embracing the single-player mindset that so many of my generation did, trying to maximize prestige, income, and an impressive “career trajectory” to keep my career narrative (and lack self-awareness) going.
This is where the story gets confusing because many millennials did remarkably well on paper, capitalizing on the increased opportunities from tech and globalization. It’s just that many of the people making more than they imagined earlier in their careers were also finding that the work that they were doing for those paychecks seemed pointless at worst and weirdly robotic at best.
But people more or less stayed quiet about this, pretending that they still bought into the old stories.
Until the pandemic sent people to work from home.
Despite increased work flexibility and “good jobs,” many were publicly asking for the first time, “Why the hell was I commuting two hours per day?” or “Why are we putting so much emphasis on work?” The anger among people who had not been on the knowledge economy rocketship intensified, with millions swarming to online “antiwork” communities, embracing anti-capitalism sentiment, and others getting sucked into crypto and financial mania for a chance at early retirement.
What I think happened in the last two years is that the fragile remnants of the industrial work scripts lost their hold over our collective imagination. You might still buy into the belief that designing your life around continuous employment throughout adulthood is a good decision and that’s great if the story works for you, but it is no longer a collective story that everyone believes.
This is leading to weird feelings. People working remotely have found their life got a lot better but experienced a subtle emptiness that they couldn’t explain. I sense it was just the awareness of a collective lostness, being in a time in which most people don’t really share a narrative about what we should be doing with our time. We’ve entered a choose-your-own-adventure labor economy that clearly and explicitly puts all the pressure on the individual to figure things out and everyone knows it.
There doesn’t appear to be a robust “digitally-necessary” script that has emerged in its place either. But people are desperate for that. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many paths formerly considered self-employed now have fancy labels like “venture-backed founder,” “creator,” “angel investor,” or “indie hacker.”
None of these stories will suffice. Work is front and center in almost everyone’s life in today’s world and I think when this is the case we need a collective story. But work, like everything else, has fractured into 100 different perspectives. Just as you might have your running friends, parent friends, and church friends, we now have different kinds of work friends. For me, I enter completely different realities when I am with my creator friends, corporate freelance friends, fitness friends, or upper-income paycheck friends. This weirdness is the new normal for the modern worker and the modern human.
We like neat stories, and when they work they are magical. I remember thinking about my life in such a simple way after college. I would work, get an MBA, and then I would be on my way. I’m not really sure what was supposed to come after that but it seemed very simple and smart to be thinking about my life like that at the time.
In The Organization Man, William Whyte argued that the young people of the 1950s did not graduate from school, “they transferred” to companies. And for many decades that’s what many of us did. We transferred from institution to institution imagining that life could always be a smooth ride.
For now, however, there is nowhere to transfer. We have to make it up on the fly.
“Traveling Village”: 20 families for four months
I stumbled upon this amazing idea from a group of families called the Traveling Village. I wanted to share it as it might inspire some readers to do something similar.
They are banding together 20 families and traveling to three countries in four months. I suspect things like this will become a lot more popular, especially as more and more people embrace unschooling and homeschooling.
It’s such a good reminder that you can just do things.
Here is some detail from the site":
Eating together is the simplest way for a community to come together and research shows that the more often people eat with others the more likely they are to feel happy and satisfied with their lives. That is why communal meals will be an integrated part of our weekly schedule.
Researching successful cohousing concepts, the best of them often have communal dinners 4 times per week.
Every family with their own place
From studying cohousing projects across the world, we know that residents say that one of the most important things is the space to withdraw from the community and to be able to have privacy. That’s why every family will book their own place to live, so everyone has their own place to just be themselves.
The Community Livingroom
We need a place to meet and a place to default to. A place you go to hang out and where you casually meet other people from the community. We see it as quite important to have this place within walking or biking distance from your home. This will probably be one of the biggest challenges of the project and it can come in many forms.
Travel dates are January 15th, 2024 to May 15th, 2024 (over a year from now).
We launched the idea and website in September 2022. By October we had a full team of founding families and in November we had decided on the locations.
We are now working hard on exact dates, areas, places, and financial structure.
We have a fully public decision log/timeline, where we publish everything that happens behind the scenes (meetings, decisions, and so on). Find it here.
Possible to work remote
We imagine that some will join as a kind of sabbatical, but we expect many will work remotely. It’s also the dream to try to do an experiment of something that could be a more permanent way of living, so of course, in all locations it should be possible to work remotely. Maybe we work from a local coworking or we create something ourselves.
Founding Families and Member Families
The first step is to find 4-5 families who are 100% in on the project and where we develop it together. This includes locations, financials, and the core principles. We call these families “Founding Families”.
The Founding Families will develop the project further and afterward open the project up for Member Families. The only difference is that the core of the project will be developed by Founding Families.
The day-to-day life will be developed by us all. Maybe someone will make yoga classes, maybe someone wants to do weekly hikes, and we arrange activities for the kids. Maybe you dream of learning to surf or build in bamboo and want to create a group that does that. We also think it would be very interesting to create different work groups with different purposes. One example could be about how we engage with the local community in a meaningful way.
Learning through play and exploration
This is also an experiment in living with kids differently. Where play, exploration, and self-direction are in focus instead of classrooms.
Everyone is 100% responsible for their own kids and their learning, but as a community, we create meaningful opt-in activities. We imagine that we use our collective skills and interests to create learning experiences.
The Founding Families need to decide on locations, both where and how many and the overall travel plan. We imagine enough time to settle and have a daily life and no rush. One of the strengths of traveling as a community is that it will probably be easier to go further out to locations with a little less infrastructure than mass-tourism destinations.
Thanks For Reading!
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