Living (and buying) 9 to 5

The eight hour workday makes too much sense for American consumerism.

The boundaries between work and leisure are effectively nonexistent in the information industry. The archaic eight hour work days — forty hour work weeks — were institutionalized in 1938 via the Fair Labor Standards Act in the United States. At that time, it was meant to limit the amount of time one was forced to work, especially in terms of physical labor. Positive, right?

But the “sun-up to sun-down” approach was created during the Industrial Revolution: it didn’t factor in staring at computer screens. With technology, it’s become a nightmare (see: 24/7 work weeks and accessibility). Not to mention the so-called eight hours actually averages 8.9 hours. Here’s how consumerism is affected.

  1. We have too much time. With more time comes more dawdling, as opposed to segments of heightened productivity in shorter work days— coined “focus dividends” by authors Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir. Because we have so much unnecessary planned time and fewer focus dividends, we become less productive to even out the day (though Pareto’s 80/20 principle could be a quick fix). So what do we do when we’re not being productive? Shop.
  2. Diminished productivity leads to mindless activities. Thanks, technology. With most 9-to-5ers clocking in about 3 hours of productive work, the rest of the time is essentially unnecessary and exhausting. So what else do we do when faced with a computer and endless time? Browse the Internet. An older article by the Daily News hits this point directly, titled “Americans love going online for no reason at all, least shocking study ever finds”. So what are we doing if we’re not answering e-mails? Shopping, probably. Cue the “Retail in Real Time” visualization.
  3. Mental acuity has its natural ups and downs. The digitized human attention span can only handle so much — apparently shorter than a goldfish’s attention span, according to some scientific digging by Microsoft. And when it comes to focusing, the average human Ultradian rhythm allows for about 90-minute sessions before needing a break. Of course we end up online shopping for new chair back support…or a book…or new socks…
  4. Instant gratification. The exhaustion of time scarcity intensifies our need for instant gratification. You want a quick expensive lunch before your meeting. You want to dry clean a tux before an important client comes in tomorrow. You want some retail therapy for stress alleviation and mood-boosting. It’s supposed to make you happier, but it doesn’t in the long run. So you want relief. And you’re willing to pay top dollar for it.
  5. Something feels missing. Most of all, the unproductive 9 to 5 and its too-much-time/too-little-time paradox leave us feeling unsatisfied at the end of the day. There is always more to want in “less” time to get it, with more time for shopping in between. We are unproductive, feeling useless and robotic. The wasted potential might be what’s missing.

The eight hour office-based lifestyle is catered to business interests. It was pre-designed and you’re paying the literal cost for it. So perhaps it’s time to question the necessity of the 9 to 5 in a consumerist society; it’s a defense mechanism, an archaic working style kept up for big business interests. We’re buying into it and we’re worse off. Let’s take a lesson from other parts of the world and leave the 9 to 5 in the past.