If the utopia of a fully machine-supported industry is fulfilled in the future, which human activities will cease to exist? Would it be necessary to continue researching, inventing and innovating? What themes, what problems will the arts talk about?

82. Man resting under a tree, outside the Porcelain Factory Vista Alegre. 1947-1997. Teófilo Rego Archive, Casa da Imagem – Manuel Leão Foundation, Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal.


Our society increasingly uses its leisure time to interact with digital multimedia devices (films, series, games, social networks, etc.). Is it important for human beings to simply do nothing?

83. Workers, between the shifts. Period of State Socialism, 1944-1989. Interactive Museum of Industry, Gabrovo, Bulgaria.

In the 19th century, industrialisation created a new kind of slavery around the machine and the aims of mass production. The oppressive feeling of workers caused by work in industry was expressed, for example, in the Luddite resistance movement of textile workers in England, which triggered a series of concerted actions to destroy the new industrial machines.

It is in this context that Paul Lafargue, revolted by the pain, misery and corruption of the so-called “century of labour”, proposes “Le droit à la Paresse”, an utopia according to which each person would not work more than three hours a day. This would be possible because of the balance achieved between the production of goods and their consumption by the workers themselves, similar to a subsistence economy based on exchange value, which would prevent the creation of significant or non-indispensable surpluses.

The collective imagination has conceived two antagonistic and radical perspectives on the relationship between machines and human beings and their relationship with work: the utopian perspective envisages and desires the use of technology to replace human labour and thus enable a life without work; the dystopian perspective is profoundly anti-technological, considering the machine as the ultimate instrument of subjection to authoritarian structures.

The image of the utopian life without work is realised in the New Babylonian city projects (between the 1950s and 1970s) by the Dutch architect Constant Nieuwenhuys, linked to the Situationist International movement. One of the images, entitled View of New Babylonian Sectors (1971 I Yellow Sector, 1958), depicts a gigantic architectural structure stretching over a vast terrain. This structure consists of various sectors of the New Babylon: the ground level is almost exclusively for vehicle traffic, and in the basement there is an automated industry entirely constituted and guided by machines; the inhabited areas are well above ground level and completely covered, illuminated and ventilated by air conditioning. The inhabitants are free from the obligations of work through complete automation and therefore have all their time for leisure and relaxation.