Bread, Roses -- and Time

As technology speeds up, Americans keep pace, but at great costs


| September 23, 2004


While traveling in Prague this summer, I befriended a group of four young men from Belgium. They had been best friends since age twelve, and were now sharing a five-week road trip adventure before returning to work. That's right, five weeks. Can you imagine a fully employed adult citizen of the United States spending five weeks of vacation on a road trip with his best friends?

Neither can Betsy Hartmann, Director of the Population Program at Hampshire College and an activist for women's rights. On the eve of her own vacation, Hartman reports in her article 'Bread, Roses -- and Time,' that Americans spend nearly nine more weeks working annually than their counterparts in Europe. That's 350 hours. And the average American vacation lasts only a little over two weeks, compared with the European five or six. For Hartman and other members of the Take Back Your Time movement, the most revolutionary item on the progressive agenda should be time.

Hartman quotes Theresa Brennan, author of Globalization and Its Terrors, who wrote that the theft of time is a structural condition of capitalist globalization. There is an ongoing tension, Brennan writes, 'between the speed of production and the way that the reproduction of natural resources, including labor-power, cannot keep pace with that speed.' The sad truth is that as technology begins to enable people to work faster, they do.

The most prominent example of this phenomenon, so-called 'bioderegulation,' in both Hartman's life and in our own, is the use of email. Email has blurred the line between work time and home time.

Other results and implications of bioderegulation are the regular burn-outs that activists face in their work, and increased stress. A less obvious but no less ubiquitous implication is that bioderegulation reinforces a culture of guilt -- frenzied work is a badge of honor rather than a signal of distress. One of the best places to see these values reproduced is on the finest college campuses in America, which are often examples of work ethic run amuck. Finally, bioderegulation diminishes people's capacities for tolerance, patience, and generosity, the qualities that any community needs to sustain itself.
-- Elizabeth Dwoskin

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