Bread, Roses — and Time

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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Bread, Roses — and Time

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