We have created a monster that is consuming us. And I don’t mean that “the Internet is bad” in that hypocritical and falsely ascetic way. I mean that we, along with the phones that travel with us, the texts we type in movie theaters, the instant messages we receive now even on some planes, the social media many of us are expected to participate in on behalf of our jobs, and the complexes and work ethics we have all inherited from our diverse array of guilt-generating forebears, have bubbled together into a frenzy of ceaseless professional engagement that is boiling us dry.[…] I don’t own an iPhone or a BlackBerry because I do not want to receive e-mail all day every day. Increasingly I understand this preference to be naive, impractical and really rather twee. On several occasions in the past year, days when I’ve run between appointments and not brought my laptop, I’ve had to call my boyfriend to ask him to log into my e-mail and tell me whether I’ve missed anything urgent. I should get a smart phone because I live in the real world. And in the real world, where I used to receive a few dozen e-mails a day, I now receive hundreds.[…] I don’t think the notion that we have to be constantly plugged in is just in our heads: I think it’s also in the heads of our superiors, our colleagues, our future employers and our prospective employees. There will be judgment, or at least a note made, perhaps by a boss who’s tried to reach you unsuccessfully, or an employee who has an urgent question that goes briefly unanswered.To not be reachable if called upon at any time, except perhaps the dead of night, feels sinful; unavailability betrays disconnectedness, and disconnectedness has come to stand for idleness and indolence. How many people have sent needless e-mails at 7 a.m. or perhaps 11 p.m., with the thought, if not the conscious intention, of communicating an intensity of professional commitment, demonstrating defensively or passive-aggressively or in the hopes of beating the next round of layoffs that they were beavering away at every odd hour of the day and night.America’s excesses are never far from sight: Our endless enthusiasms for boundless capitalism, materialism and hedonism persist. But these three have always had a complicated but close relationship with their uptight buddy, Puritanism, and I can’t help feeling these days like Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards have insinuated themselves into everyone’s friends and family network, preaching the gospel of a work world without end.
Well, yes. Once again, though, the machines were created to address the perceived need of more productivity, more convenience, so yes, those fucking Puritans and their diseased minds. We’re still suffering the effects of living in a country they founded. But honestly, how much of what we do for a paycheck is, you know, vital? And how much of it is just frenetic activity in the service of manipulating manufactured desires? We long ago passed the point where we could produce enough of the essentials for everyone to live comfortably. Most of what we do now is try to convince people they can’t live without something they never even knew existed five minutes ago, something that will make them feel special for a moment or two before needing to be replaced with something bigger, better, flashier, newer. Like all drugs.
I think the system will eat itself eventually. In the meantime, though, it’s just a question of how much you’re willing to do without, how much you’re willing to be a pariah, how firmly you’re willing to defend your perception of what is absolutely necessary for you to be content, come what may. Personally, I would rather work as a janitor or hanging off the back of a sanitation truck than to become a white-collar professional (and yes, I’ve done similar work before, so that’s not empty bravado). Luckily, I sat down and thought through this at a time when most of my peers were busy trying to craft fake IDs to get hold of beer, so I was able to avoid the debt that traps most people in this hamster wheel consumer society.