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Running head: ELSEWHERE, U.S.A.
Elsewhere, U.S.A. How We Got From the Company Man, Family Dinners, and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, Blackberry Moms, and Economic Anxiety Jeff Bennett Queens University of Charlotte July 16, 2009
Elsewhere, U.S.A. How We Got From the Company Man, Family Dinners, and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, Blackberry Moms, and Economic Anxiety Before I sit down to reflect on Dalton Conley’s book Elsewhere, U.S.A there are a few things I must do in order to clear my mind. First and foremost I must pull up iTunes and put on some good music. Secondly, I must check my email, both work and private. In order to truly feel at ease, I will need to read the Charlotte Observer, NY Post and ESPN for some up to the minute breaking news. Something is also telling me to check in on my fantasy baseball team, the JerseyBoys, take a peek at my stocks on Etrade and update my queue on Netflix before I get started. Lastly, I must check in on my webkinz and make sure everyone is alright. It is this type of behavior that has created Conley’s Elsewhere, this new society that he describes with words like wild, complicated and anxious. He digs deeper into the society and examines the new individual or intravidual as he refers to them that has been created. According to Conley (2009) “Changes in three areas of our lives – the economy, the family, and technology – have combined to alter the social world and give birth to this new type of American professional (p. 7). As I finished the book the first comparison that came to mind was that of a doughnut. The book started out great (first bite) with interesting stories, fun facts and bold predictions. After several chapters I found myself really struggling to stay focused on what felt like the same story being told in a slightly different ways. The middle of the book (doughnut hole) almost lost me. However, I keep pushing through and found a nice conclusion (the other half) and wrap up (last bite) to his story.
It became clear to me that Americans do live in an “elsewhere society” and much of our lives are affected by this change in philosophy. Technology is the main reason we now live in such a fragmented state. It is unclear if the changes in lifestyle perpetuate the creation of new technologies or the new technologies force the changes in our lifestyles. In my mind changes to our culture has altered the way we do things on a regular basis. The cultural changes also lead us to think differently and change our psychological outlook on life. Together this leads our society to make different economic decisions which in turn modifies our entire business world. Changes throughout the different arenas of our lives lead to the creation of Conley’s Elsewhere, U.S.A. The process of creating a “Cybernation” began as far back as 1964 during the Lyndon B. Johnson presidency. It was written “in a fourteen-page memorandum…that computerization was likely to create massive unemployment (Conley, 2009, p.55). It is my opinion that computers and technology have created more jobs in the last 45 years then they have eliminated. Technology has created opportunities and positively changed our lives forever. From the Apple II in the late seventies to the Blackberries of today we as human have become more efficient. As Conley states “Mr. and Mrs. Elsewhere feel like they need to be not just in two places at once but literally everywhere at the same time (Conley, 2009, p.19). The technologies that have been developed to create the elsewhere society now gives humans the ability to multitask in ways they never could have before. For example working mothers can now attend their son’s baseball game and check work email from the stands in between innings. With technology everything seems possible. Conley goes as far as to give us a look into the
future when he makes mention of some interesting potential technological advances. He discusses his friend with the ability to put images on the moon and a $100 laptop for developing countries. When reading this I wasn’t sure if I should be excited or scared about what is to come. The technology of today has surely changed the way we live our lives. Conley best describes this new world as a place “where social boundaries dissolve, leaving us in a new cultural landscape without a map or guidebook (Conley, 2009, p.19). It is good thing we have Google to help us with any unanswered questions. Throughout the book Conley was able to get me to question life on many fronts. His ideas forced me to examine my concept of the term busy, family (and the process for creating one), homeownership and the concept of work versus leisure. The area that excited me the most was the present day family. He examines this new culture and defines how families communicate, work, provide meals, vacation and spend time with one another. Working in college admissions I was amazed at what Mitchell Stevens shared about this new breed of parents. He mentions that “you can have a fancy car, house and a high powered job, but if you fail to get your kids into an elite college, then you have ultimately failed in your status attainment efforts” (Conley, 2009, p.154). Hopefully Queens meets the standards of many parents in years to come. It was sad to hear him write about Mr. 2009 speaking with his children with one eye on his computer and the other another communications device. With that it was interesting to see that Mr. 2009’s “generation of fathers actually spends more time with their children than any in recent history” (Conley, 2009, p.6).
The typical family and even individuals of today have a different way of looking at things and a unique psychological approach to many aspect of life. When it comes to work in today’s elsewhere society many feel that “when you can earn more per hour, the opportunity cost of not working feels greater and the pressure is all the more intense (Conley, 2009, p.13). This approach along with the apparent desire to work constantly and be available 24 hours a day has created an unhealthy level of anxiety in the work place. Conley also tells us that “many of this new breed of intraviduals feel stressed out and dislocated from both home and work responsibilities (Conley, 2009, p.17). With our cultural beliefs being altered and our thought processes being challenged daily there is no wonder our economic system and business lives have also transformed. Much of the transformation stems from the changing idea of the typical work day and work responsibilities. “In the twenty-first century, the boundary between work and home has largely disappeared (Conley, 2009, p.8). Many employees have been forced to eliminate totally separate work and leisure lives and instead settle on a hybrid lifestyle that Conley refers to as “weisure” in order to stay ahead and competitive. Shockingly Conley lets us know that “For the first time in history, the substitution effect has triumphed on balance, leading to a situation where higher-wage earners work more hours than low-wage ones (Conley, 2009, p.95). This new work dynamic has led to an increase in both economic inequality and insecurity. The income inequality has been a growing problem since the late 1960’s and Conley has several ideas as to why the problem continues to grow. Instead of blaming right wingers like Ronald Reagan or George Bush(s) he looks to the rise in computer technology and the changing nature of marriage as key contributors (Conley, 2009,
p.60-62). Much of the insecurity in the current workforces is created by the fact that many people work in what Conley refers to as a “stuffless” economy. He goes on to point out that “for almost all of their great efforts, most professionals produce nothing tangible at their place of work; many can frequently feel like frauds (Conley, 2009, p.17). The idea of being “found out” is frightening to this elsewhere society. In this postmodern era many members of the elsewhere society continue to try and make sense out of their own identity. Constantly being pulled in a million different directions it can be easy to feel out of control, lost and fragmented. I think this is a great time in US history to create the identity of the next generation. I compare this group of professionals to early earth. Their identity is like hot molten lava moving in a million directions, not sure of what is to come. This way, that way, up, down, all over the place looking to find some stability. It is encouraging to know that this group of identity storytellers will be growing and shaping their generational identity. The cooling down and harnessing of their identity is the growth and the uneasiness they are currently feeling. Growth is in discomfort and the discomfort has forced individuals to feel like their lives are constantly elsewhere. In time the fragmented lifestyle will feel more comfortable and the elsewhere way of life will seem normal and balanced. The elsewhere existence is like learning to juggle. The idea of juggling three balls to a beginner can be scary. The veteran juggler may have no problem at all handling seven or eight balls. As our society gets use to juggling multiple forms of media, responsibilities and expectations we will become clear and comfortable in our newly created elsewhere identity.
Reference Conley, D. (2009). Elsewhere, U.S.A, How We Got From the Company Man, Family Dinners, and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, Blackberry Moms, and Economic Anxiety. New York: Pantheon Books
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