Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Fifteen Hour Work Week

“With the natural resources of the world, the machinery already invented, a rational organization of production and distribution, and an equally rational elimination of waste, the able-bodied workers would not have to labour more than two or three hours per day to feed everybody, clothe everybody, house everybody, educate everybody, and give a fair measure of little luxuries to everybody.”

     This was written in 1905 by Jack London, a hundred ten years ago.
     What has happened since then? Mankind has invented the airplane. He has invented the cartridge pen and later the ball point pen. He has invented the electric typewriter, the word processor and now the computer. Where it once took weeks for news to circle the world we can now receive it almost instantly. Documents that once needed to travel by rail, by ship and by horse and buggy are now zipped by satellites effortlessly and instantly.
     And the machines of industry have increased almost unbelievably as well. The machine I now operate is twice as efficient as the one I used to operate, is ten times more efficient than the ones in the memories of people I work with. Easily, production has increased tenfold since the time Jack London wrote those words, proclaiming that there was no need for able bodied workers to work more than two or three hours a day. That should put our workday at somewhere between 12 and 18 minutes.
     So what has happened since then? How did we go from a married man working 50-60 hours a week to a couple averaging 100 hours or more a week?
     There are the labor saving devices we have to pay for, I’ll give you that. A washer and a dryer, dishwashers and garage door openers save us some time working at home. But they save physical labor, the kind that is healthy and for the most part stress relieving. Because we now sit at desks for 50 hours a week instead of doing physical labor, we now have to run to the gym after our 10 hour work day and get a workout in. So in the long run our riding lawn mowers and our snow blowers have not really saved us any time.
     What has happened to us since then? How did we end up a society that pays someone to walk our dogs so we can drive our SUVs to the gym to hit the treadmill for an hour? How did we get here from there?
     Sure, we all have televisions nowadays. Really big ones. But a hundred years ago, people would go out to see a play or sit on the porch and talk to our neighbors as they happened by, or played cards with parents or children. Was that a good trade we made?
     Granted we have food from all over the world now, and we can eat the most tropical of fruits in the middle of winter. But very few of us now have grandma’s preserves sitting on our shelves. Very few of us eat vegetables picked fresh from the gardens we or someone we know lovingly tended. Very few of us would even know how to raise food from the ground. Very few of us would know how to prepare an animal, to either raise livestock or hunt for our own dinner.
     We’ve lost something and I don’t know how we let it happen. And we’re all in such a hurry to get things done, I’m worried we’ll never find the time to wonder how it all went wrong. Life should be better than this. We should demand the benefits that our labor saving devices have supposedly given us. We should be humans again, take time to smell the roses, spend time with those we love, do the things that are worth doing and ask the questions that need to be asked:

     So once again I ask you--if you can find the time to come up with an answer—what happened?

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