Posts tagged doing nothing
The contemporary version of happiness is not something that has simply emerged as a product of popular opinion - it isn‘t that society is just giving us what we want. Instead a particular version of happiness has been promoted very consciously for a very long time.
For Graeber, bullshit jobs carry with them a moral imperative: “If you’re not busy all the time doing something, anything — doesn’t really matter what it is — you’re a bad person.” But the flipside of that logic seems to be: if you actually like doing x activity, if it is valuable, meaningful, and carries intrinsic rewards for you, it is wrong for you to expect to be paid (well) for it; you should give it freely, even (especially) if by doing so you are allowing others to profit. In other words, we’ll make a living from you doing what you love (for free), but we’ll keep you in check by making sure you have to make a living doing what you hate.
Overwhelmed is a book about time pressure and modern life. It is a deeply reported and researched, honest and often hilarious journey from feeling that, as one character in the book said, time is like a “rabid lunatic” running naked and screaming as your life flies past you, to understanding the historical and cultural roots of the overwhelm, how worrying about all there is to do and the pressure of feeling like we’re never have enough time to do it all, or do it well, is “contaminating” our experience of time, how time pressure and stress is resculpting our brains and shaping our workplaces, our relationships and squeezing the space that the Greeks said was the point of living a Good Life: that elusive moment of peace called leisure.
According to Keynes, the nineteenth century had unleashed such a torrent of technological innovation—“electricity, petrol, steel, rubber, cotton, the chemical industries, automatic machinery and the methods of mass production”—that further growth was inevitable. The size of the global economy, he forecast, would increase sevenfold in the following century, and this, in concert with ever greater “technical improvements,” would usher in the fifteen-hour week. To Keynes, the coming age of abundance, while welcome, would pose a new and in some ways even bigger challenge. With so little need for labor, people would have to figure out what to do with themselves: “For the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem—how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won.” The example offered by the idle rich was, he observed, “very depressing”
In the popular imagination, artists tend to exist either at the pinnacle of fame and luxury or in the depths of penury and obscurity — rarely in the middle, where most of the rest of us toil and dream. They are subject to admiration, envy, resentment and contempt, but it is odd how seldom their efforts are understood as work. Yes, it’s taken for granted that creating is hard, but also that it’s somehow fundamentally unserious. Schoolchildren may be encouraged (at least rhetorically) to pursue their passions and cultivate their talents, but as they grow up, they are warned away from artistic careers. This attitude, always an annoyance, is becoming a danger to the health of creativity itself. It may seem strange to say so, since we live at a time of cultural abundance and flowering amateurism, when the tools of creativity seem to be available to anyone with a laptop. But the elevation of the amateur over the professional trivializes artistic accomplishment and helps to undermine the alre
Brent Coker, who studies online behavior at the University of Melbourne in Australia, found that people who engage in “workplace Internet leisure browsing” are about 9 percent more productive than those who don’t. Last year, Jonathan Schooler, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara published with his doctoral student Benjamin Baird a study called Inspired by Distraction. It concluded that “engaging in simple external tasks that allow the mind to wander may facilitate creative problem solving.”
Stillness is the third space between spaces of action and reflection. A space that vanishes if life becomes too frictionless and reliably provisioned.
The problem that crops up in all discussions of this kind, however, is the ambiguity of the term “work,” particularly in a capitalist society. It has at least three distinct meanings that are relevant. One, it can mean activity that is necessary for the continuation of human civilization, what Engels called “the production and reproduction of the immediate essentials of life.” Two, it can mean the activity that people undertake in exchange for money, in order to secure the means of continued existence. Three, it can mean what Gourevitch is talking about, an activity that requires some kind of discipline and deferred gratification in pursuit of an eventual goal. These three meanings tend to get conflated all the time, even though they all appear seperately in reality. This is the point I’ve tried to make going back to my earliest writing on this topic. “Work” manifests itself in all eight possible permutations of its three meanings.
The difficulties and ambiguities in discussing wages for facebook stem from the reduction of wages for facebook to a thing, a lump of money, instead of viewing it as a political perspective. The difference between these two standpoints is enormous. To view wages for facebook as a thing rather than a perspective is to detach the end result of our struggle from the struggle itself and to miss its significance in demystifying and subverting the role to which we have been confined in capitalist society.
Over the centuries, the illusion of mastering time through obedience to it came into acceptance. Across Europe, the medieval monastery’s bell tolled as a reminder to eat, sleep and pray. But while there must have been some soul’s release in relinquishing earthly sovereignty to that sound, as the clock’s authority spread, we sealed all the gaps through which curiosity might seep into our days. Curiosity, after all, could lure the susceptible way off track, as the Italian poet Petrarch learned in the spring of 1336, when he famously climbed Mont Ventoux, motivated by “nothing but the desire to see its conspicuous height.” One of the texts he carried along was Saint Augustine’s “Confessions,” detailing the moral dangers of such expeditions, when men “go out to admire the mountains,” or the course of the stars, and therein forget themselves. Chastened, Petrarch made his descent in silence.
Playfulness is what makes us human. Doing pointless, purposeless things, just for fun. Doing things for the sheer devilment of it. Being silly for the sake of being silly. Larking around. Taking pleasure in activities that do not advantage us and have nothing to do with our survival. These are the highest signs of intelligence. It is when a creature, having met and surmounted all the practical needs that face him, decides to dance that we know we are in the presence of a human. It is when a creature, having successfully performed all necessary functions, starts to play the fool, just for the hell of it, that we know he is not a robot.
Resting-state activity is important, if the amount of energy devoted to it is any indication. Blood flow to the brain during rest is typically just 5–10% lower than during task-based experiments1. And studying the brain at rest should help to show how the active brain works. Research on resting-state networks is helping to map the brain’s intrinsic connections by showing, for example, which areas of the brain prefer to talk to which other areas, and how those patterns might differ in disease.