Work is going backwards

Is the digital age workforce slowly accepting a state of constant work?

While listening to a podcast recently (I think it was Sprint. Maybe.), something stuck with me: a story of one man claiming that he’d quit mowing his lawn. He’s determined that his time is worth a certain hourly value, and any activity not generating wealth is a loss. It’s something I’ve seen with increasing frequency around the web: your time is money, so don’t waste any of it.

On the surface, it’s enticing: hey, I can always be doing something that makes me money, and I always want more of that stuff! Sadly, it’s just another sign of massive institutional failure. We’ve built an economy so unstable that workers feel a need to be in a constant state of production. What is the your-time-is-money movement actually saying? Always be working!

Trade unions and united workers of the industrial age fought to secure living wages and the eight-hour-day, but we workers of the digital age are folding over and accepting a state of constant work. A long day at the office (where, if you work at a really cool place with a gym, bar and sleep pods, you may NEVER HAVE TO LEAVE); 3am emails on your phone from your bedside; even every tweet is an extension of your professional life.

Weren’t personal computers, the internet, the cloud, and automation supposed to make us all more efficient so we’d be able to work less?

Our studio maintains a prescribed work/life balance. While we do have a few creative extracurriculars among the team — like Glasgow Zine Fest and Beertimes— we don’t take our work home with us. It’s in the contract: do your work, go home. If you don’t finish your work, do it tomorrow (it’ll still be there, and you’ll do it better).

We all know that human beings are better workers when they’re active and fulfilled outside of work, and not overstretched. This is apparently common knowledge today, and why Mr-No-Mow-the-Lawn’s pride in his way of life is perplexing to me.

The reason it resonates so intensely could be that I often say “it’s like mowing the lawn” as a positive when I’m taking on a medial task. While the fun stuff is playful, daring, and creative, there’s a lot of boring things to be done in the world of design. That’s not a bad thing, though — we need those kinds of tasks to keep sane — and that’s why mowing the lawn is essential: put your head down and chug along. Watch the rows of grass disappear. Think about anything, or nothing.

It’s like an old zen story, when a new student asked the master what it was all about. The master replies:
“Did you eat your breakfast?”
“Then wash your dishes.”
The student was enlightened immediately.

The point is, it’s all in the mundane. This poor fellow doesn’t need to monetise every waking moment of his life. He needs a workplace and a society that gives him time to cut the grass.