No, not science fiction but one possible outcome of a fundamental shift in society away from materialism in favour of emotional fulfilment. Which, given the events of the past week alone - more stressed out workers turning to the courts for compensation; new research showing that if the radiation from your computer doesn't get you, the techno-stress will - won't come a moment too soon.
For according to Danish trend-spotter Rolf Jensen, we are fast approaching a new era when, freed from today's obsession with speed and efficiency - both will be taken as read - our time and minds will be freed to focus on how we feel. "Information Society is making itself obsolete through automation, abolishing the very jobs it created, heralding a new era of creativity and storytelling," he says. Follow this through to it's logical conclusion and what do you get? According to Jensen, The Dream Society.
In his blueprint for this future, The Dream Society, published this week, Jensen describes how societies in the developed world will soon place greater value on imagination and creativity, feelings and experiences. Our lives will change profoundly as we re-organise - gravitating towards like-minded people with whom we will chose to live, work and play: he calls these "value communities".
Jobs will become "hard fun" - challenging, but you love it. True, some of us will end up working longer hours but apparently we won't mind as the lines between work and leisure blur. We'll expect more fulfilment from our jobs and although we'll still be paid, work will lose its association with martyrdom and become pleasure-driven - it won't be enough just to pay the rent.
The jobs we do will also change. In the dream economy, many jobs currently dependent on "professional knowledge" - such as law, medicine and engineering - will no longer be done by people but by computers able to think for themselves. The less skilled will benefit, too, as manual jobs are taken over by machine. What Jensen calls "soft knowledge", such as courtesy and manners, will be automated. And a growing number of us will work in creative industries whose importance will grow in an economy increasingly reliant on creating and delivering experiences.
We'll spend more time and money planning our leisure. New products will enable us to go "emotional jogging" - exercising our full range of feelings through simulation games from our own homes. Our taste will develop for increasingly extreme adventure holidays. "Recreational politics" will let us flex our ethical convictions, perhaps with a spot of "political tourism" - visiting world hot spots to understand conflict better by experiencing it first hand.
Emotions and imagination will also dictate what we buy. When technology renders obsolete advantage through performance and design, the story behind it and how that story makes us feel will differentiate the goods we buy. We'll seek out and pay for more and more stories.
If this all sounds far-fetched, think about it - it's happening already.
As society gets faster and more efficient what do we suddenly decide we want? Consumer goods that take time and effort.
Jensen agrees: "Consumers will increasingly want what could be called `retro products'. Linen sheets rather then drip-dry; Agas not electric cookers; time-intensive home cooking as opposed to instant boil-in-the- bag dinners. People want goods to be produced the old-fashioned way. This may be more expensive and more labour intensive, but they are willing to pay for the story about animal ethics and rustic romanticism - classic Dream Society logic."
It's human nature, says Jensen, to crave the simpler things of yesterday just as technology allows us brighter and better products. "Experience proves that when people reach a level of affluence that satisfies most of their very basic needs, their attentions turn to the less basic. Fact. We are now at the dawn of that new day and society and the economy will fundamentally change." It will be, he promises, the first post-materialistic age.
Science fiction? Well, Jensen's vision is shaped by the work of one of the leading social and consumer trends' think-tanks, the Copenhagen Institute of Futures Research, where he is director, and other research lends support to his vision. A recent report from consultancy Business Strategy, for example, suggests creative professions will be the fastest-growing sector for new jobs between now and 2006 as demand for artistic and literary skills outstrips that for computer programmers or lawyers. Meanwhile, there's already evidence that since the mid-Nineties, priorities and values have started to change. Take our attitudes to work.
Steve Watson, a director of Hay Management Consultants in Birmingham, identifies an attitudinal shift amongst young people. "Generation X has no expectations of any loyalty from employers so in effect, each is becoming the customer of the other," he says. While your boss pays for your time, skill and results as an employee you now expect a range of "emotional rewards" beyond a monthly salary, he explains. Such as? "A pleasant working environment; appropriate lifestyle - there's a backlash coming against long-hours culture; quality of work - they want to feel good about the company they work for; the promise they will be challenged and stimulated by what they do."
Martin Hayward, director of consumer consulting at The Henley Centre, highlights the growing importance placed by employers on softer skills - "emotional intelligence" - rather than pure intellect, or EQ over IQ. True, the brightest are still likely to do best but increasingly, success will depend on your ability to empathise.
As things become more virtual and "down the wire", a growing premium is being placed on face-to-face and personal interaction, adds organisational psychologist Professor Cary Cooper of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology: "It's said technology will mean more people working from home. I'm not convinced - human beings want and need other human beings around them." Meanwhile, others note, the social role of companies is growing fast as the number of childless twenty-, thirty- and forty-somethings grows.
We are starting to see a tangible shift in consumer values, says Caroline Chandy, director of planning at advertising agency Publicis: "Increasingly we are making decisions about what we buy according to how it feels, rather than what it is," she says. Few of us go to a restaurant just to eat anymore, for example. "We are still materialistic, but we now want something more."
Which explains the growing emphasis in the high street and in shopping centres, such as Bluewater, on the "shopping experience". Earlier this month new sports store Decathlon opened for business in Surrey Quays complete with in-door rock face for customers to climb before completing their shop. Just last week, the country's first wine theme park - Vinopolis - opened in central London.
"Our wants are becoming less tangible," Hayward says. "Most of us now have the material things we need - hence the pre-occupation with whether we're making the best of ourselves and living life to the full. Increasingly, markets for experiences will emerge. And with a new emphasis on satisfying people's emotional needs, an emphasis on cultivating a workforce equipped to do so."
As technology makes all the boring stuff disappear behind the scenes, what's left out there for us to do personally is the fun stuff, he believes. The challenge for companies will be how to capitalise on all of this.
Take heart, then: a brave new touchy-feely world awaits. As for when we can start reaping its benefits - well, on that point the pundits remain a little vague. One thing, however, is certain. Change is getting faster and faster: when agricultural society overtook hunter-gatherer society it lasted 10,000 years; the Industrial Age reigned 200 years and the Information Age ... just 20. So keep your wits about you for the Dream Age: blink and it may have passed you by.
`The Dream Society' by Rolf Jensen is published this week by McGraw- Hill, price pounds 19.99.
WHAT WE'LL BUY
In the Dream Society we'll want products made with love to be cherished, rather than throwaway commodities. We'll seek out:
Linen sheets NOT drip-dry
Mont Blanc pens NOT e-mail
Agas NOT microwaves
Polenta NOT Pot Noodles
Rucksacks NOT handbags
Holiday in Chechnya NOT Spain
Posh stationary NOT postcards
Yoga classes NOT step machines
Job satisfaction NOT pay rises
Friends NOT relatives
THE NEW LANGUAGE
What comes after the Information Age - a time when emotions, feelings and imagination, rather than hard knowledge and cold data, are king.
... such as courtesy and manners will be automated - as will many manual jobs.
Work will be motivating, creative and emotionally rewarding, possibly involving fewer hours and sporadic working patterns.
DIRECTOR OF IMAGINATION
One of a new generation of jobs in tomorrow's company, along with "values co-ordinator", "visualiser", "enactor" and "storyteller".
New products and services will allow us to display our emotions without being really serious in order to exercise and develop our emotional lives.
A person who creates environments to stimulate a particular emotion.
Tour international trouble-spots to form a first-hand impression of a particular conflict.