I’m currently reading the classic book Working by Studs Turkel (the first book in our agency book club. Hey! Why not start an agency book club?). It’s a series of testimonials from people about their different jobs and the nature of work in general. The first chapter has this quote from a steelworker:
“You’re doing this manual labour and you know that technology can do it. (Laughs). Let’s face it, a machine can do the work of a man; otherwise they wouldn’t have space probes. Why can we send a rocket ship that’s unmanned and yet send a man into a steel mill to do a mule’s work?”
I also read this interview with US comedian Aziz Ansari where he extolled the benefits of not working super-hard:
“I waste an hour or two every day looking at mindless stuff on the Internet. I go down a wormhole from Google News or The New York Times. I’ll watch movie trailers and stuff like that. It’s like, ‘A 15-second video on Instagram of a guy with a light saber! Look at that!’ But I wrote a bit about that, so it did help in that way.”
An hour later I came across this article in US GQ, which explored the jobs which earned the most money for the least effort:
“For many people, work means late nights in the office and even later emails from your boss. A Gallup poll from last year that the average full-time American employee works 47 hours a week, with 18 percent of them working at least 60 hours. Eighty percent of American workers report feeling stressed out at work, according to a Nielsen study from last year. (Wage growth, in case you were wondering, has pretty much been stagnant since 1979).”
And then this article about pointless long hours in NY Magazine:
“This is a version of something psychologists call the “labor illusion,” which, as Burkeman explains, means that although “we might say we’re focused only on whether [someone] did the job quickly and well … really we want to feel they wore themselves out for us.”
Then a friend of mine posted this quote to Facebook:
This Daily Mash article: ‘Business goes under as entire staff masters art of looking busy’.
So what is ‘work’ in 2015?
What does your day look like? How much of it is Facebook/Twitter/Blogs and how much is actual application to the tasks in hand?
Do you justify Facebook etc. as sponging stuff into your brain so you can be more creative in future?
Or do you give zero fucks?
Is your output a reasonable return for the money you get paid?
Do you enjoy what you do despite the fact that it’s tainted with the pejorative nomenclature ‘work’?
Are we conditioned to dislike working because it’s drummed into us at school to be some kind of ‘necessary’ drudgery that needs to be completed before we enjoy ourselves, like eating your greens before you’re allowed pudding?
Are white collar jobs a bit pathetic compared to the real work of digging roads etc?
Is manual labour basically a stress-free, thoughtless mental holiday that’s far more appealing than pushing a pen (if only it paid more)? (By the way, when my wife worked at a production company she told me that the boss often fantasised about working on a checkout, mindlessly passing barcodes over the electronic reader.)
Is it true, as Churchill said, that if you find a job you like you’ll never work a day in your life?
Do you suspect that there’s really only enough proper work for, say, 500m of us, with the rest doing silly made-up jobs that don’t matter in the least?
I wonder how many hours of actual ‘work’ I do each day. I answer emails, have quite a few meetings and reviews, get on calls with far-flung countries, think about what I could do to make the workplace better in general etc., but how many minutes do I spend doing that? How many is it possible to spend utterly dedicated to those tasks? I like to pop over to Facebook or Twitter occasionally to give my brain a rest and/or find those fascinating little tidbits you all enjoy in my weekend posts, but I don’t really switch off as I continue to think about aspects of the job throughout the day and at at home.
My job spans many time zones, so there’s always someone awake to prod me with an electronic message.I usually wake up to 40 emails and estimate that I receive another couple of hundred throughout the day. I can often go the loo with all messages cleared and return to find a little number 17 in my unanswered mails indicator. But lots of these just have me looped into a conversation between other people. If I had to give a considered response to each one I don’t think I’d have time to do anything else.
However, when I get to the weekend I tend to switch off. The kids are around and they need my attention (and I want to give it to them). I think that’s valuable time and I rarely feel like there’s something else my brain should be occupied with.
I also suppose that there are people in the office who spend more of their hours contributing to the agency than I do, but there are also plenty who spend fewer. But what is the quality of those hours? Is one of mine equivalent to three of a more junior person? Or equivalent to half an hour of my boss’s time? And, as I ultimately contribute to Apple, does my work generate more money than those who work for smaller companies?
In the end it’s just another area of life that human beings guess at with little accuracy. We fit vaguely into out little slots and that seems to be sufficient for the whole situation to continue.
Then we die, and just before that happens we realise that none of it actually mattered at all (smiley face made out of punctuation, perhaps with a wink and a sticky-out tongue).