"Judy Wajcman, a sociologist at the London School of Economics, tackles that paradox in her recent book, Pressed for Time: The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism. Neta Alexander talked with her for Public Books about the history of busyness, why we haven’t reached an “End of Work” utopia, and why iPhone meditation apps aren’t the solution."
Almost a century later, many Americans work around the clock in a new “always connected” corporate culture. What went wrong, and is it still possible to resist what you describe as “the cult of speed”?
Judy Wajcman (JW): I think the thing that went wrong is the incredible inequality that we see all around the world. Thomas Piketty’s book [Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013)] is often cited in this regard. We see enormous inequality in the labor market: on the one hand we have professional managers working incredibly long hours, and on the other hand we have unemployment and ever-spreading job insecurity. The main problem is the distribution of work. Our policies about redistribution of work have somehow lost ground and I think we have to return to these issues and share out a lot more of the work. At the moment, the people “enjoying” a three-hour workday are not doing it out of choice. This is very far from the Keynesian utopia.
NA: These “epiphany narratives” always remind me of Augustine’s Confessions and other religious and spiritual texts of conversion. I once was blind, but now I see. Is this a new form of enlightenment?
JW: Absolutely. You read these stories every day, and they never mention the fact that the people working for these guys have yet to experience this life-changing transformation for the simple fact that they are required to work 24/7. I wrote a book called Managing like a Man (1998), for which I interviewed senior men managers and CEOs. They all talked about how much they regretted not having spent more time with their loved ones. But none of them turned around and said, “We’re going to reorganize the company so that the young men who come in won’t make this same mistake.” Instead it was what I call “a rhetoric of regret,” and it’s completely empty. Tech companies suck employees into an impossible work schedule and then they offer them yoga or mindfulness retreats—very different than actually reducing work hours or giving workers more free time.
NA: Your concluding chapter is a polemic against Google’s self-driving car. It seems like this idea hit a nerve …
JW: Yes, it did. The logic behind this invention is that people will sit there for hours, able to work while someone else is driving for them. I think it’s iconic of the current trajectory of technology and time, and I find it to be a very American or Californian solution to our problems. It worries me for several reasons: ecologically, it’s not very sustainable, and—equally important—it’s supposed to replace a much-needed radical redesign of cities on a more human scale. We need to spend more time and energy developing urban centers with public transport than encouraging people to have private cars.
"Imagination is our window into the future. At NASA/JPL we strive to be bold in advancing the edge of possibility so that someday, with the help of new generations of innovators and explorers, these visions of the future can become a reality. As you look through these images of imaginative travel destinations, remember that you can be an architect of the future. Click on the thumbnails below to learn more and download a free poster sized image."
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"As Washington elites drifted toward ideological poles over the past few decades, did ordinary Americans follow their lead? In The Partisan Sort, Matthew Levendusky reveals that we have responded to this trend—but not, for the most part, by becoming more extreme ourselves. While polarization has filtered down to a small minority of voters, it also has had the more significant effect of reconfiguring the way we sort ourselves into political parties.
In a marked realignment since the 1970s—when partisan affiliation did not depend on ideology and both major parties had strong liberal and conservative factions—liberals today overwhelmingly identify with Democrats, as conservatives do with Republicans. This “sorting,” Levendusky contends, results directly from the increasingly polarized terms in which political leaders define their parties. Exploring its far-reaching implications for the American political landscape, he demonstrates that sorting makes voters more loyally partisan, allowing campaigns to focus more attention on mobilizing committed supporters. Ultimately, Levendusky concludes, this new link between party and ideology represents a sea change in American politics."
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