Why the Future of Work isn’t About Technology

Unhappiness at work and the desperate need for a more common-sense workplace

Erik P.M. Vermeulen, PhD
5 min readJun 3, 2022


Photo courtesy of author

“Oh, Sorry! I thought you took sugar.”

I had prepared a coffee for the plumber who was fitting a new faucet in my kitchen — a fancy one with an instant boiling water tap.

“I used to. But not anymore. I turned forty a couple of months ago and I stopped putting sugar in my coffee and tea.”

He tapped his waist — the universal male sign for “diet.”

We all go through changes when we get older. It’s an important — and necessary — fact of life. I have a natural sweet tooth and used to plaster sugar in or on everything. Coffee. Tea. Yogurt. Strawberries. But — like my plumber — I also gave it all up when I hit the big four zero. That’s more than ten years ago, and the thought of putting sugar in anything feels pretty gross now.

But then, our conversation was abruptly cut short by the sound of his phone.

“Not that thing again,” he groaned. “It takes so much longer to finish a project these days. Installing a kitchen faucet took me around one hour a decade ago. But now — with all these interruptions — it’s more like a half day’s work. It’s just too easy for people to contact me, and they won’t even use email anymore, so it’s harder to ignore them.”

“I feel your pain. I work in an office.”

“And people are so impatient. They expect an instant response. I shouldn’t complain, but it definitely makes me less productive. I spend much less time actually doing the work and much more time managing the demands of other people. And that’s not what I signed on for when I took up this line of work. It’s a real pity as I still love the core activity — building and repairing stuff.”

My own phone must have felt left out of the conversation and started singing. Another message.

“Give me a moment — I should probably reply to this — and then I will get you another coffee.”

Constant distraction. Less time doing the actual work. More time managing the unreasonable expectations of other people. Is this what life has become? A perfect recipe for frustration and unhappiness.



Erik P.M. Vermeulen, PhD

Prof (Law) | Sci-fi | Sociological storytelling