Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The other side of laziness

Though Callenbach points out the lazy attitude employed in much of our lives (how to innovate so we can sit in front of the TV more), there's another phenomena that American's struggle with: the principle of incessant toiling. This seems contradictory (and it is), but let's talk about it a little.

It seems strange to me the preoccupation we Americans have with inventing stuff that will "save us time." Like, washing machines, dishwashers, computers, and especially TV dinners. What do we do with the time we save? Americans work 
more than anybody else. So, at least in this country, we're using those labor saving devices to do more labor. Seems a little counterintuitive to me and how does this interface with our "laziness?" 

Even our efficiencies go to allowing us to work more. Today, it takes less than 15 hours per week to produce the same amount of work product that a 40 work week produced in 1950 (check out what we could do with productivity increases if we didn't use them the buy more possessions 

Juliet Schor, author of The Overworked American, has compiled an interesting table:

Annual hours over eight centuries
YearType of workerAnnual hours
13th centuryAdult male peasant, UK1620 hours
14th centuryCasual laborer, UK1440 hours
Middle AgesEnglish worker2309 hours
1400–1600Farmer-miner, adult male, UK1980 hours
1840Average worker, UK3105–3588 hours
1850Average worker, U.S.3150–3650 hours
1987Average worker, U.S.1949 hours
1988Manufacturing workers, UK1855 hours
2004Average full-time worker, Germany1480 hours
2008Average worker, India2817 – 3443 hours
2010Investment Banker, NY5082 hours

I'm not trying to suggest that work is bad. Actually, what's most alarming is the kind of work that's expanding in the United States: office work. This article from The Onion makes fun of this trend. What's troubling is that sitting in an office all day and staring at a screen is so unnatural. If you've been keeping up with the new trend of barefoot running, you know that humans were designed to run. We were not designed to sit and stare at a glowing rectangle all day.

And what do we do with the money we get from staring at our glowing rectangles while slumped in our favorite office chair with magnificently engineered lumbar support? We buy Air Nautiques, vacations to Hawaii, tickets to Disney World, massages at Calistoga Ranch, etc (or other things that don't cost so much, but are in the same vein). It's like we're medicating with the extreme opposite of our office jobs. After the fun, it's back to the grindstone (or in the 21st century our friendly glowing rectangles) to earn money for the next dose.

What's worse is that this incessant toiling coupled with the backlash of recreational lethargy leaves no time for the maintenance of our society (like educating ourselves about voting or even eating a balanced meal so we don't get obese and cost the rest of society millions in health care dollars). It's all we can do to drive home after work and plunk down in front of our "funner" glowing screen with a Marie Callender's in hand.

Why not just work less, relax more, and quite medicating?

For more on this, read
Your Money or Your Life

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