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have the effects of technology and automation had on the time we spend working and playing? Despite decades of predictions about an immanent leisure society, most people would agree that we currently have less discrete leisure time than ever, despite our increase in “time saving” technology. It seems to come as a double edged sword, while technology increases efﬁciency it makes people increasingly unnecessary in the process or, for those who remain, their role becomes increasingly meaningless. With less satisfying work, people will look elsewhere for more challenging work to tackle during their leisure time. While people predicted technological advances would give us increased free time, they were also worried about wasting that time. So new technologies were created to make sure we spend our free time meaningfully, making it increasingly easy for these boundaries between working and playing to be dissolved, until we can now rarely be fully “off the clock.” Looking back at the perspectives on the work-leisure relationship over the years is important in understanding how we currently frame our perspectives on the role of technology in shaping our time, both paid and unpaid, going forward. In the newsreel ﬁlm “A Camera Interview with Lord Gorell” from 1930, Gorell speaks about the marvelous technological advances he had been witness to in his life so far. He cites the inventions of the railway, telephone, motorcars, airplanes, cinema, and broadcasting. His tone is clearly one of awe at the speed at which these technologies have advanced, but he also speaks with a hint of caution and concern about the effect of these new inventions on men. He speculates, “Now what we have to consider is what we are going to do with all these powers and inventions. Whether we are going to allow them to be our servants and not our masters” (Gorell). One could imagine that these sentiments were generally shared by many people of his time.
People were clearly concerned about the rapid pace of these developing technologies, combined with the fear of being overpowered and made obsolete by our own automating inventions. As a result early theorists, who were still getting use to the idea of working only 40 hours a week, worried that an excess of time would be problematic. Since our Western industrial culture had become so work-oriented, the main concern was that we wouldnʼt know how to make “good” use of our free time. In 1931, John Maynard Keynes began to to tout the possible beneﬁts of increased leisure time, but was ultimately pessimistic about our ability to actually take advantage of this surplus of time. Like others of the time, Maynard believed that “we have been trained too long to strive and not to enjoy. It is a fearful problem for the ordinary person, with no special talents, to occupy himself” (Veal 19). People wondered, how could people ﬁnd meaning and purpose in their life without work? For instance, Jay Nash critiqued Americanʼs of the 1930ʼs who he felt were more prone to passive rather than creative leisure. He believed the “machine-formed time” would be squandered by people who, given the chance, were more likely to turn to listening, watching, or resting as opposed to creating anything (Veal 21). While selfimprovement was seen as a good use, the problem was when people used their leisure time to participate in lounging or consuming “commercial recreation.” In the 1950ʼs instructional ﬁlm “Better Use of Leisure Time” a teenage boy named Ken is criticized by the narrator for spending his leisure time “just moping” around. The narrator proceeds to show him just how lucky he is to have so much leisure time by showing little vignettes of what life would have been like for his father 200 years ago. The ghostly image of his father barks, “While I work 72 hours a week no son of mine is going to loaf!” The next image of his father 50 years ago tells him he works 60 hours a week, which is equally shocking to the teen. Finally, the image of his father in present time cheerfully admits “Itʼs wonderful to do so much work in so little time, this 40 hour week suits me ﬁne!” before talking about how much he enjoys his leisure time doing hobbies.
Switching to a view of his mother she cheerfully announces “Why this new washer surely is a timesaver!” but the teen notes that she still keeps busy, and begins to wonder how he might ﬁnd things to do with his leisure time. But he wonders, “How will I know Iʼm using my time well?” The narrator returns to Kenʼs father, working on his woodworking hobby to learn what deﬁnes a “good” use of leisure time. Ken concludes a good use of leisure time “give you a change and helps you learn things.” He also notes that itʼs a good idea to have a long range goals for your leisure time activities. In the end he concludes that photography could make a good hobby and that maybe he could make a business out of it some day, clearly promoting a “productive” form of leisure, especially one that could lead to future work. This idea of wrangling leisure time into being productive vs passive has been a central concern of both historical theorists and modern media designers. In “Mashup Cultures,” released in 2010, Stefan Sonvilla-Weiss notes that new media technologists have longingly fantasized about abolishing the separation between producers and consumers, although it still remains an unfulﬁlled dream. But despite these unfulﬁlled dreams “early 20th century utopian expectations of a new medium for a new social system through conversion of the conditions of communication from passive consumption to active participation has greatly inﬂuenced recent media theory and practices” (12). These concerns and utopian ideals are still relevant decades later. Theorists also predicted that people who did nothing but tend to machines at work would have an especially hard time ﬁnding meaning in their life and would therefore be especially hungry for creative outlets (Veal 22). Georges Friedmann was mainly concerned with the resulting boredom and alienation of workers who had increasingly meaningless industrial jobs. He felt that work was becoming “increasingly easy and for many people working life is losing content and interest, we must look for new content and our interests and efforts must be ﬁxed elsewhere, our life being centered about play” (Veal 27). Given our current dependence on working with technology on our day to day tasks, this seems especially true today.
While the theorists of the 1930ʼs were concerned about automation making industrial jobs for humans obsolete, weʼve reached a point where the machines are starting to move up the ladder. After taking over agricultural and industrial jobs thereʼs concern that technology is quickly taking over middle-income service jobs (Evans). For instance, a new startup called Humanoid seeks to harness the power of crowd sourcing by using “workforce management technology” to oversee the human workers. Instead of humans tending to the machines, the machines will soon tend to us (Schonfeld). When this day comes, what will it be like for the human workers? Those of us who work in ofﬁces tending to virtual machines, or soon letting machines tend us, often ﬁnd it difﬁcult to truly understand what weʼve accomplished for the day, let alone derive any sort of meaning from this abstract work. While we let the machines do most of the work, we struggle with understanding our role in the system. We seem especially hungry for meaningful activity to stimulate our mind both while working and playing. What will happen to our mental level of engagement when our work life gets increasingly automated? Jane McGonigal sees our existential problem with reality as ﬁxable though, claiming that “our most pressing problems - depression, helplessness, social alienation, and the sense that nothing we do truly matters - could be effectively addressed by integrating more gameful work into our everyday lives” (36). In her recently released book, “Reality is Broken” she poses several “ﬁxes” for reality, taken directly from some of the principles of good game design. She notes that people play games like World of Warcraft because we enjoy the sense of productivity from fulﬁlling quests and earning achievements, regardless of whether or not those emotional rewards come from a game or real life doesnʼt matter to the player (61). In an alternate reality game proﬁled in the book called Investigate Your MP's Expenses a real world task of sifting through thousands of reimbursement forms and receipts becomes a worthy challenge and therefore an engaging game for thousands of people online to collaborate on. She justiﬁes, we enjoy games because well designed games are invitations to tackle unnecessary obstacles. Essentially, playing games are just voluntary forms of hard work. By proposing games as not forms of useless leisure, but actually productive and beneﬁcial, she follows the tradition of attempting to make leisure
time actually involve more work. By doing so she also promotes a life with where work and leisure are increasingly overlapping. Starting in the 80ʼs commentators were beginning to wonder if the problem actually lay in the persistent Protestant work ethic. They began to wonder if a new type of ethic was required to ﬁt the times. Perhaps a “leisure ethic” would create a work week consisting of 3 days of work and 4 days of play. Or perhaps we would need to develop a “life-ethic” as a central driver, one which acknowledged and promoted the human potential of a full life as opposed to full employment, where the peopleʼs contribution to society would were consist of more than just their contribution on the job. Similarly, a “contribution ethic” might arise to ﬁll the void of the work ethic, where people are able to be fulﬁlled by acting on the behalf of others (Veal 59). For instance, current projects like Wikipedia have ﬂourished because people were voluntarily taking on work as part of their leisure activities. Again we see this idea that leisure must somehow be productive. Andre Gorz argued the work ethic needed to be abolished because it takes the pleasure out of life. But he also notes that “It will certainly not be an easy matter to destroy it and replace it with an ethic which privileges the values of voluntary cooperation, self-determination, creativity and the quality of our relations with each other and with nature” (Veal 61). He felt that the demand to ʻwork lessʼ was not to enable one to ʻrest moreʼ but instead ʻlive more.ʼ Wanting to work less would enable people to work more for themselves, not for the sake of money but for the sake of pleasure and self fulﬁllment. We may not be in a full leisure society, but it seems that with our networked internet culture we now have the ability and ethics that value things like voluntary cooperation. While it may seem that we have less time, it may be because more of our designated leisure time has been taken over by work-like activities. But at the same time, in this “New Economy” where technology changing social interactions, we have turned work into our “the new leisure” where the boundaries between work and leisure are blurred, and we ﬁnd more sense of community within the work environment (Hilbrecht 368). Given the trajectory of our work-leisure relationship, and our evolving ideas of the ever elusive leisure society, where will our increasingly networked technology lead us next?
Gorell, Baron. A Camera Interview with Lord Gorell. britishpathe.com. British Pathé. # 1930. Web. 15 Nov. 2011.
Veal, A.J. “The Elusive Leisure Society.” School of Leisure, Sport and Tourism Working ! Paper Series. 4th Edition. (2009): 1-95. PDF.
Better Use of Leisure Time. Coronet Instructional Films. archive.org. 1950. # Web. 15 Nov. 2011.
Sonvilla-Weiss, Stefan. Mashup Cultures. New York: Springer-Verlag/Wien, 2010. Print. Evans, John. “What If This Is No Accident? What If This Is The Future?” Techcrunch. ! AOL Tech. Web. 15 Nov. 2011
Schonfeld, Erick. “With Backing From Google Ventures, Humanoid Brings Robot # Supervision To Crowdsourced Tasks” Techcrunch. AOL Tech. Web. 15 Nov. 2011
McGonigal, Jane. Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can ! Change the World. New York, NY: Penguin Press, 2011. Print.
Hilbrecht, Margo. “Changing Perspectives on the Work–Leisure Relationship.” # Annals of Leisure Research. 10.3. (2007): 368-384. PDF File.
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