Work, Free Time, and the Curious Case of Modern Technology

Unfortunately, all external means of improving our life experiences are double-edged swords: they are always good and bad. No external remedy improves our condition without, at the same time, making it worse.
—Thomas Hora

This includes the always praised ‘work.’

Two could debate—if two ever wanted to—whether or not I am addicted to my work, or production, or something related. From a yogic point of view—a view that says ultimately we are not this body, we are a soul having a ‘this body experience’—I definitely identify myself with my work compulsion. That is not optimum in terms of minimizing self-ignorance.

But work/leisure/freedom etc are such curious things.

Today, we act like we have so much more than our parents and our parents’ parents. But in fact to get on average something like one extra room per house than our parents had, we work way more—two instead of one full time job—and have massive, uncontrollable debt.

Is that freedom? Is that the dream?

Either way, has technology saved us time? The amount of time I spend figuring out programs and technology in the filming/editing/sound aspects of movie-making is staggering, and likely unhealthy. I was reading bits of Carl Honoré’s In Praise of Slow, and I found out this misperception/hope is nothing new (pg 188).

“Inspired by the technological breakthroughs of the latter 1700s, [Ben Franklin] predicted that man would soon work no more than four hours week.

The nineteenth century made that prophecy look foolishly naive. In the dark satanic mills of the Industrial revolution, men, women and even children toiled for fifteen hours a day.

Yet at the end of the nineteenth century, the Age of Leisure popped up once again on the cultural radar. George Bernard Shaw predicted that we would work two hours a day by 2000.”

I’m not sure who ‘we’ are, I’m not sure what exactly we’re working for, and god knows what I really think working in a certain compulsive way will accomplish long term. Heck, long term I won’t even be here. All that will remain is my nervous energy, oscillating towards some distant gallery on the wings of Bell’s Theorem. Or will that be vibes of love, trust and calmness? What can be changed? Controlled?

“In 1956, RichardNixon told Americans to prepare for a four-day workweek in the “not too distant future.”

That’s happening now, but only because of lay-offs.

“A decade later, a US Senate subcommittee heard that by 2000, Americans would be working as little as fourteen hours per week….

One in four Canadians now racks up more than fifty hours a week on the job, compared to one in ten in 1991.”

Interesting, huh? What are we working for? Who are we working for? One thing is for sure, with people working so profoundly hard, and for so much time, a large drop in civic involvement, community and communication in general must be a side-effect.

This can’t be good.

Honoré writes (190):

Technology, meanwhile, has allowed work to seep into every corner of life. In the age of the information super-highway, there is nowhere to hide from email, faxes and phone calls…I know from experience that working from home can easily slide into working all the time.

Garl darnit, me, too! I don’t feel worthy (of what, god knows?), in a sense, unless I produce something I think is of value to someone—even these blogs. It’s a knot tied inside between a compulsion and wanting to be useful. A knot that is never loosened by accomplishment or anything else. Thus, a hamster wheel—and oh how the hamster longs!

From the Bhagavad Gita (Jeffrey Armstrong translation), Chapter 2:

47. As a human being, your strength lies in purposeful action but the results of your actions are beyond your control. Do not consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities but do not retreat into a state of inaction.

48. Perform your work in a balanced state of mind, O Arjuna, without attachment either to success or failure. Such equanimity of mind during action is called Karma Yoga.

So if you have the privileged luxury to ask why you’re working so much and hard, ask also who you’re working for, and what is propelling you to work so hard. For so many of us, it is simply an insatiable hunger for consumer goods—or is it? What a thing to throw one’s freedom away for. As I’ve heard before, “Enjoy yourself, the time is later than you know.”

The Taoists have a great way to begin a meditation.

I am sitting in the lap of my Mother. I love Her and She loves me. I am exactly where I’m meant to be. Now I shall meditate.

Please love yourself more, and breathe more deeply, and sit and feel the world, and that you are part of it; part of the rhythms of nature; you have an inherent right to be here, to breathe from a relaxed space, to love, to play, to increase community. Yes, this is your right. Say it over and over again…

Pete xoxox

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3 Responses to “Work, Free Time, and the Curious Case of Modern Technology”

  1. Karen says:

    Hi Pete,

    My Love and I don’t know anyone who thinks our generation has more than our parents or grandparents did. In fact, among our circle we feel we had less opportunity to advance economically. The best any of us could hope for was what our parents had. For some of our friends this is still frustrating and in some cases, sadly, a pathological obsession.

    And I’m not sure we work more than our parents. My Dad owned his own business and often worked 12-hour days, 6-7 days a week. When business was slow, he took a second job. I’m sure your parents worked hard too.

    I don’t think technology per se is the problem, it simply made it possible to receive email, faxes, and phone calls anywhere. We can turn technology off. (Just like the TV)

    Are you addicted to work or creativity? I tend to think of work as something I do to earn money to support my physical needs. Creativity I think of as something I do because I have a passion toward it. (How blessed are we who have a passion for what we do to earn money?) But anything you have a passion toward and is worth doing usually takes a lifetime to perfect, right? We learn more about the tools of our trade as we use them; we, as individuals, are always changing, and most passions and jobs also are evolving constantly. Isn’t what you’re “producing” during a learning curve a greater ability to produce?

    And what is the definition of “produce something of value”? Must everything be of value to the community at large and tangible to count? You know the tangibles one produces aren’t justification for one’s existence. Isn’t someone who spends an hour cuddling with their Love or an hour snuggled up with and reading to their children producing something of value to someone?

    It seems to me it’s never a good idea to tie your self-worth and self esteem up in the tangibles you produce. Be proud of them, enjoy them, yes; but I know that there is nothing I could ever put on paper, tape, celluloid, video, or any other media that would be more important than those I’ve chosen to nurture. You could find the cure for cancer, but if you mess up with your loved ones, you failed in my opinion.

    I always try to remember we construct the hamster wheel and the cage it’s in. I can step off and out at any time. Only I can tie the knot, so only I can untie it.

    I’ve heard somewhere that one should try to do that which expands your soul, not your wallet.

    Oh, and when working at home never put the Easter candy basket on the credenza behind you because the chocolate smell utterly shuts down all productivity, at least for us chocoholics, expanding only your waistline.

    Love to you and those you love,
    Karen

  2. Lovely Karen,

    As usual, your comments are fantastic. But for once I slightly disagree, which means I’m almost certainly wrong, or perhaps it’s mere semantics. Having more than our parents is a relative thing, but supposedly, at least according to I think Elizabeth Warren, on average our houses are one room bigger, we often have two cars etc, and we travel more and all those sorts of things. So in that sense more.

    Plus, as anyone can see in this age of credit and debt, we’ve ‘progressed’ under what’s been called a sense of entitlement that my parents and certainly those in the middle class or below before my my generation just didn’t have. If you couldn’t afford it, you didn’t buy it. This clearly changed, as credit card debt and the collapse of the housing market has indicated.

    As for work, your father was an extremely hard worker, a flippin’ miracle man. At 12 hours a day and 6 or 7 days a week, and sometimes a second job, that is really working hard! My point was that nowadays in an average situation BOTH parents generally work, taking a standard forty hour work week to eighty hours right away, which is even more than your dad worked. This isn’t to exclude a stay-at-home parent’s work at all, but these two-people-working-families still raise their children…sometimes not as well, so far away, but they do. So I was referring to the total-hours-out-of-the-house-working of a household.

    Having said all that, I would completely agree with you, however, that in certain things that truly matter, we have much less than our parents. And in reality, when debt is included, we have way less than our parents. So your friends and you are right, in my opinion. But those were the constraints under which I was making the comment.

    And I agree profoundly with your point about those you nurtured. That is life, love, beauty, and wonderful. And when I said producing something of value, I didn’t mean that was true ‘value’, in fact it may be a projection filling some other missing element of self-worth that is never actually filled by what we believe will fulfill it. That is almost a working definition of addiction. The drug we think we need is never enough. Why? I don’t know for sure, but I am right there with you on cuddles, cuddles and more cuddles. Is there anything sweeter known to humankind? I always wanted there to be a bumper sticker: Stop Genocide, Hug A Stranger.

    The ability to step off of the hamster wheel—shopping, eating, gambling, drugs, work—is so difficult for so many, often despite best intentions, often there are no intentions at all except some sort of relief. But I agree, somehow, somewhere, under normal conditions and maybe all conditions, we do construct our own hamster wheel, sometimes like the frog in water that is being gently heated up. What a wild thing it is, being human. But it’s the best thing, too (not that I remember being anything else).

    And I can totally relate to the chocohol…choco…choc…oh god…I’ll finish this later, I have to go downstairs.

    Love ya! And love to your cuddle-full family, the greatest yoga asana there is.

    Pete

  3. Karen says:

    Hi Pete,

    You may not even see this as the original thread slipped into the archives already, but a thank you is in order from me and a few friends.

    I’m glad you clarified the framing of your comments because I think I see where our differing views come from on having more or less than our parents. Assuming Ms. Warren’s statistics are averages, the area I grew up in may have been an outlier.

    Most of our (peers/friends) mothers worked once the youngest entered school until retiring in their 60s; most of our families had two cars; we went on family vacations each year; we were responsible for our siblings and each other, as well as the household chores; and in addition to our responsibilities, school got priority. College or trade school was a given for all of us. Many of our parents had some issues with debt, but not from a sense of entitlement; mostly necessities. Sounds onerous, but our parents also made sure we had time to be kids; a delicate balancing act seen through 20-20 hindsight.

    In most material ways my Love and I have less than our parents, but we realize that’s partially because of our choice not to carry debt as they did. However, bearing in mind that most of my friends still live in the area we grew up in, many actually bought houses almost identical to their parents, have two-income households, kids, two cars, vacation every year, etc. So most of us really have basically what our parents did.

    I bounced this off a few friends, and once again we were shocked to realize how privileged we were growing up and how much of that privilege rode on our parents backs. Growing up, life is what it is and one often doesn’t realize the true reality of one’s circumstances. Thank you for the reminder.

    And, yes, my Dad had one heck of a work ethic. He usually left the house between 6-7 AM and returned between 10-11 PM. He owned a 24-hour diner. He tried to find some balance, but those hours took a toll. Eventually his body balked and he had to slow down, but he continued to work until he was disabled by chronic disease in his early 60s.

    Love, and lots of cuddles and balance to you and those you love,

    Karen

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