1 December 2022


Moving to the couch?

By Robert Kilconner

I had a surprise last week. I will shortly be travelling to New Zealand and, having arranged my Auckland accommodation some months ago, sent a message to check that all was still in order. To my horror I was told that actually they would not be able to put us up after all, adding to their message the words: “You may not be aware New Zealand is experiencing serious issues with staff shortages in the hospitality sector and [we] are therefore not able to take any further accommodation bookings for the dates you have requested.”

Well, fortunately I managed to secure accommodation somewhere else but it was a shock because I had not previously appreciated how global the issue of staff shortages in the hospitality sector actually is. Obviously we know about the problem in the UK but, rather lazily I suppose, I had put that down to the shortage of imported foreign labour following Brexit. That can hardly be the problem in New Zealand. What has gone wrong? Why does nobody want hospitality jobs any more?

Is the answer, perhaps, that the world is suffering some form of long Covid and that going out to do a hard day’s work looks unattractive to those used to working at home or, perhaps, living on benefits. Are many of those pushed out of the workforce by Covid reluctant to return? And it is not, of course, only the hospitality sector. We are constantly told that people will move further out from city centres as more work is done online from home. Is there going to be a problem filling jobs which require a physical presence?

The answer to this since that is probably yes but before we get into the “in my day you got on your bike and set off through the rain” way of thinking we need to ask a question. Isn’t that what was supposed to happen? After all, mechanisation has come forward by leaps and bounds over the last decade or so and surely the point was to reduce the time people spent working and to increase their leisure? Is what we are seeing the inevitable dislocation which flows from the improvement of the human position?

Perhaps, but if so there is another question. How is this extra leisure time to be used? Will we see people do less and less until their limbs finally fall off and they have to be equipped with something like a TV remote to direct the crane which lifts them from one couch to another? Or will we see a newly creative society where people use their leisure to do more exciting and interesting things? Will we see new plays, new music, new art, new philosophies, more sport and new religions created not just by professionals but by those whose jobs no longer take all of their time?

It will be nice to think that society will deepen and flourish and so it may but before you count your chickens too far in that direction given a little thought to the way in which the leisure industry is moving; where are the millions being made? Is it by new exciting artistic enterprises or by companies which will help the lazier couch potatoes fill their time without doing much constructive themselves? The answer is rather worrying.

Cover page image: Pxhere / wikimedia / creative commons

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