The topic statement makes a rather unreal assumption. This is that the only effect of technology is to reduce working hours. Certainly, the old sixty-hour working week has been reduced to forty hours in most countries, and the tendency is downwards.
This, of course, was due in part to the replacement of manpower by machine power although until very recently in the West, the far more potent factor was the growing power of trade unions. Within the past ten years, however, this power has been demolished by a creeping world trade recession. Instead of being forced to increase wages and reduce working hours by the threat of strike action, many businesses have either closed down or laid off a massive number of workers.
In Britain, this applies to all the main industrial concerns as well as smaller private businesses. Almost all coal mines have, or will shortly close down due to the switch to nuclear power and gas as fuel for electricity production, and the almost total disappearance of coal as the fuel for domestic heating. In offices, computers have decimated numbers of white-collar workers. Machinery and large-scale farming have had the same effect on agriculture. Robotry has revolutionised car assembly and standardised containers have eliminated the need for power in the docks. Added to all this is a worldwide drop in consumer confidence, due to a reluctance to spend in view of widespread job insecurity.
So to say that ‘our leisure time is increasing’ is certainly true, even though the underlying assumption presupposes and ideal situation in which the advance of technology has had the single effect of shortening working hours. It may be that some countries are in this happy situation. The working hours may have gone down to say twenty-five hours without prejudice to job security or loss of income. Inflation is low. The GNP is adequate and the balance of payment sound. Morale remains high. The population has a good basic education. All that is required to find the right balance between work and play. Most people are not naturally lazy, so generally speaking the incentive to use leisure time constructively built-in.
There are many ways in which this can be achieved, beginning at school. Most schools have a career adviser as a member of staff, and many education authorities employ a peripatetic educational psychologist. Their work could be extended. There is no reason why their advice should be limited to school progress and future job opportunities. Also, the object is to find out the young person’s true interests and capabilities. If academically inclined, the young person could be steered in that direction. A manually gifted child could be shown opportunities in that very wide field. Many countries could step up their coaching facilities for those who are good at sport.
There is an old saying that ‘Satan hath some mischief yet for idle hands to do’. One of the aims of education should be to instil a liberal and humane attitude towards other people, especially those of other nationalities and alien cultures. A current problem in West Germany is xenophobia, caused by mass immigration from the east, and an uncertain economic future. National Socialism among unemployed youth, with its hallmarks of intolerance and violence, is increasing. The fears of these young people are real, but their behaviour shows up the basic deficiencies of their home and educational background. In Britain, extreme elements of Left and Right reflect their unrest by going in for petty crime and by showing hostility to the establishment and police.
The solution is right thinking and a positive attitude to leisure, whether that leisure is enforced or not. This need is generally recognised, and some countries already provide a range of opportunities. Britain offers training and retraining schemes for young people based on what used to be called ‘technical college’. Evening classes are available almost everywhere. The ‘Open University’ provides a spectrum of instruction via television. Libraries and specialised magazines have been generally available for decades.
The solution is a matter of personal incentive combined with professional direction. The key to both stems from parental direction and encouragement combined with enlightening schooling.