In the happy information mills of 21st century America, robots will do much our work, congenial coworkers will take breaks for volleyball and consumers will bargain with businesses just as labor unions do now.
The bad news, aired along with the good at a seminar here on Working in the 21st Century, is the propsect of a "national virility crisis" and the "Italianization" of the work force.
"Italy," warned James J. O'Toole, management professor at the University of Southern California, "is a future that doesn't work."
O'Toole told the audience of business and labor leaders at the Philip Morris-sponsored conference that shortsighted labor demands are leading American workers toward the "irresponsible" work ethic of the Italians and British rather than the committed spirit of the Germans and Japanse. The nation, he said, had best beware.
Former space science engineer Theodor Gordon worried aloud that an aging American population with a falling birth rate may face a questioning of "our national viritlity
Pollster Louis Harris said people already show a willingness-far beyond what today's leaders believe-to accept a cut in their standard of living in the face of inflation and shrinking resources.
By the turn of the century 80 percent to 85 percent of the country's workers will be performing services, rather than making products, and many will be selling information in some form. The emphasis will be to expand, not physical production, but human creativity, "the most renewable resource on earth," Harris said.
Whatever the future brings will apparently be described in a rising tide of social jargonm of which yesterday's panelists offered a preview.
Some caused unease in the crowd by declaring that "old paradigms" no longer work and that the nation needs new ones. (What people expect, clarified another panelist - such as the idealized traditional marriage - isn't what they get,)
Princeton professor Suzanne Keller spoke of the "decline of the reproductive imperative" and other changes women face as a major new force in the labor market.
Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalogue, talked about "textures" in living and working, including things like volleyball and home cooking in the work place.
With California's wealthy bedroom community, Marin County, as his "social laboratory," Brand said, he well understands the "grim burden" of the new affluence and its frequent preocupation with self, alcohol and drugs.
But he said "service solves dissipation" and said more and more people will turn on by helping others.
"People who live and work attentively (i.e., are "textured") are less patient with poor schools, parks, shops . . . and so forth," Brand said, "and they are dangerously well-equipped to do something about it.
He also predicted less supervision from above and more supervision by peers at work in a textured future.
"I'd say that texture is good for the work place," he said. "Get all you can.