Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Reading on a Lazy Afternoon

I was strolling in my backyard this morning, when I remembered something I'd read. So I pulled out my digital camera, snapped a few shots, and came up with this post.

Years ago, I read Carl Sagan's book Cosmos - which was also a popular television series. In one of the chapters, when he was discussing the possible dire fate of humanity, he presented a sentence about "reading a book on a lazy Sunday afternoon." This sentence was a contrast against the potential doom that intelligent life perhaps inevitably encounters. Sagan poses that maybe intelligent species advance to a point where they always destroys themselves - which is one theory as to why Earth has not detected or encountered other inhabitants in the universe.

Of course, that is not the topic on hand, at least directly. In remembering that sentence about reading on lazy afternoons, I was struck by how seldom I have such an opportunity. Every passing year, technology advances, and it seems my schedule has less time for sitting outdoors in the afternoon and reading (that's something I do at night). I know I'm not alone in this. But why I'm returning to the notion is because several decades ago the promises of technology predicted a future with more luxury time - more time for those lazy afternoons. However, each advancement seems to find a new way to keep us in contact or on an electronic leash, and able to do our work from anywhere, providing the batteries last or there is a power outlet. Over all, it is a strange sort of advancement. One that seems ever-consuming, gnawing away at our free time - or did we ever have free time?


Steve Buchheit said...

Actually, many "primitive cultures" had way more free time than we do. At the day job, whenever they talk about getting me new technology to help me do my job faster and easier I always rejoice, because 9 times out of 10 it actually means more overtime pay.

Jeff Edwards said...

I remember reading something similar awhile back in a book about "simplicity," and the example used was the washing machine.

Before the advent of washing machines, people had to use a washboard and a sink to scrub their clothes. Obviously this sounds time-consuming. But apparently, people carefully wore their clothes several times before putting them in the "dirty" pile. So, there were fewer clothes to wash than we have today. Each day, we may wear one set of clothes to work, another to exercise in, another to relax in. So the "dirty" pile has grown and we must do several loads of laundry each week.

Essentially, it is not the technology that makes more work for us in this case, it is our adapted behavior to the perceived ease of use of the new technology.


Brook said...

Yes, and no... and this is just off the top of my head so I'm sure much of it is wildly inaccurate. However, I don't think that now days there is free time to be had so much as you have to make free time.

In older cultures where you had to work longer to get by, free time was enforced by the lack of 'things' to do after you got the work done. So they would do what we perceive as free time activities because that is what they had to enjoy between jobs.

In less technological cultures now days I think that what we see as free time is enforced by a lack of what we see as 'activity'. People still need to work, but if you are in a city and don't have 'work' then you have enforced 'free time' because you really can't go out, find a plot of land and homestead. And for what ever reason you don't have as much of the technology that blurs the line, although cell phones are everywhere.

In technological societies we see the encroachment of the 'always on' technologies. It's the culture and the values though that seems to control how that technology is used. You see it in Japan and hear about how others refer to it in us. We don't turn off, we are always working. And it's definitely enforced by the work culture that is trying to squeeze more and more productivity out of a shrinking work force. Combine that with the distraction of pleasurable electronic pusuits that blur into work related technologies (example: the phone I use for home is the phone I use for work) and you get a blurring of 'work' and 'free' time. (And tell me if I'm posting too much. I tend to ramble and like to hear myself too much. ;)

Charles Gramlich said...

I've given this a lot of thought myself and it's gotten to where I often hate new advances in technology because of how it creates more and more work for me.

However, I've really been trying to cut back on my connectivity and have been spending some afternoons reading on my deck. Man it is so great. Give it a try.

William Jones said...

Steve - I've read this many times. And I suppose this is perhaps most obvious in the fact that most primitive cultures are unable to work in the dark. And you make a good point about the technology and complications.

Jeff - Another good point. It really is how we use the technology. In some cases, companies find a new technology, layoff employees, and require more labor from fewer people.

Brook - You have several insightful points. Today it seems we have a need to fit in "entertainment" and "time off" in between working. Basically, we schedule our lives, and then when we have a new technology, we often bring it along to our entertainment or our "escape." I'd really hate to work on a farm and have to carry a Blackberry. :)

William Jones said...

Charles - It has been a while since I've done it, but it is great. And I plan to heed your advice in the future.

Brook said...

A bit unrelated but speaking of working in the dark, I am reminded of a story I once heard. A woman became a mail order bride and moved from her community where she lived among whalers to a small homestead on the prairie. Because she was an outsider she had little standing with the family.

Life on the priarie was hard and they were required to make most of what they needed themselves. They worked from sun up to sun down, but had to stop because it became dark. They would retreat into their house together until the sun again rose.

However the woman, having grown up amongst whalers new how to render blubber and how to use it to create lamps. She realized that the same could be done with the fat that they saved from the animals they ate.

Using her knowledge she created lamps for the family, a much better source of light than they had up to that point. The family was able to work longer into the night and her standing was escalated because of her contribution. Her standing went up because she used her knowledge of technology to allow the family to work more... although the lamps would also allow them to enjoy the later hours of the night in the house.

Moonbeast said...

Who came up with the bad idea of a 40-hour work week anyway? I never liked this idea. Nope. Not one bit!