The scientific method and the advances that emerge from it show us new ways to understand the world. The promises of science and technology have been burgeoning since the age of enlightenment. They give us the means for taking more control of our world. And they’ve been building through a positive feedback loop that continues at an increasing number of revolutions per generation. There is evidence that the ancient Romans had everything in place to be the first to develop the scientific method and to have initiated the march of modern technology, but regrettably, political failure and superstitious interference lead to the Dark Ages instead. Science had to wait for the Renaissance. The revolution in technology since then has been mindbogglingly spectacular. For over 99% of the two million year history of hominins, our ancestors have been subsistence hunting & gathering. In a mere two hundred years we’ve gone from outhouses to supercomputing, and in the process gained huge amounts of efficiency in a blooming flash of timesaving, comfort providing, security giving technology.
Where have all the flowers gone? All these modern labor saving tools and technological advances should be giving us more time for leisure; more time for travel and new experiences; more time to read, to learn, to think, to experiment; more time to strengthen our social bonds and civic involvement; more time for art, theater, literature, dance, music; more time to create and recreate.
The fruits of modern life were showing positive results through the mid 20th century. The workweek was reduced to five days, eight hours each; contrasted to a hundred years ago when the Industrial Age Robber Barons subjected workers to six-day workweeks, ten to twelve hours a day, and zero weeks of vacation. Sick days, maternity leave, personal days, pension plans eventually became the norm. But these gains are being slowly chipped away, and more than is immediately apparent. Some of the losses are hidden, for instance, most households used to have one income earner. Today most have two. Married couples typically work between 55 to 70 hours a week, so while one earner working 40 hours used to be able to support the household, it now takes two wage earners putting in 35-75% more time. Official average workweek for the US is just under 35 hours including part-time workers. Considering only full-time workers the average is 46 hours—38% report working 50 hours or more. Note also, those are working hours at one’s employment. They don’t count the hours you work at home, cooking, cleaning, managing necessities, or another overlooked time-drain that should be counted as work time, your commute. Add in an average 30 minute commute and 1.5 hours a day for personal/household work and you’re working over 60 hours a week. Lower wage workers often put in more time with a second job to make up for pay that’s sorely lagging behind the cost of living. And I suspect these statistics are only counting hours per worker at a single job, not taking into account those holding multiple jobs. Whereas unemployment may have declined since the banking meltdown of 2008, underemployment is rising to record highs.
Studies of hunter-gatherers reveal they work only a few hours a day, averaging about 24 hours a week. That’d be a three day work week for us. Hunter-gatherers work less, play more, and we, with our mountains of modern timesaving conveniences, work two and a half times as much. Our time savings keep going back into more work, longer hours, less recreation. Consider, too, how we got these advances. It wasn’t from working for a living. It was from people who had free time—time to dream, time to experiment, time spent not on subsistence, but on inquiry, discovery, deep thought, personal interests. Think, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Maxwell, Curie, inquisitive people who had time to spend on research that had no immediate purpose. It was from curiosity driven slackers like them who dove into examining the world for nothing more than the pleasure of discovery.
Why are we working more and living less? Where are the efficiency gains going? Why haven’t employers reduced work hours and increased pay? Who’s hoarding the gains? Who’s keeping more than their fair share? Have we entered a new era—the era of the Information Age Robber Barons?
One solution could be a “Just Say No” policy. Say no to more hours. Say no to a $150 cable bill for commercial TV. Say no to working for less, and being asked to give more, and give up more. Say no to the latest, newest, fastest. . . Say no to spending more on more stuff. Say no to being sucked into the maelstrom of the consumer consumption trap.
And a “Just Say Yes” policy. Say yes to play. Say yes to playing something that doesn’t require a payment. Say yes to a walk in the woods, a game of cards, an evening at home with friends—food and drinks on the table, TV dark and silent. Say yes to having fun. Say yes to taking control of time—your time. Say yes to reaping the benefits of the modern world.