Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Productivity Myth

Odds are you're reading this at work. Don't feel bad -- I'm writing this at work. And after, I intend to read some webcomics before leaving early. I'll still get paid for all eight hours of course, even if I didn't actually work eight hours. Even if I didn't actually work. Ever.

That's one of many elephants in the room every time people try discussing jobs, the economy and whatever -- if you have one of those average, white-collar jobs, you're work day consists of dicking around on Facebook. If you don't, if you're service industry, retail, more manual labor, then your work day consists of peak days -- dependent on customers, an increasing rarity in a depression -- and off hours. Lots of off hours.

See, I've done all of the above and one thing I've determined is all the talk about productivity -- in any work place -- is just talk. It's really six or seven hours of trying to look busy and occasionally an hour of actually doing something. I know it, you know it, we all know it, but we never talk about it.

If we talked about it, we might start to ask questions -- "Well, if I'm doing nothing here, why shouldn't I get to do nothing at home where pants are optional?" Why indeed. I've telecommuted too and I know it's just as unproductive as sitting in an office, only the boss can't see you playing video games. Taken to it's logical extreme, we might just end up in some sedentary socialist utopia, never having to leave our couches unless it's to buy food, interact with others, or just to get out and walk around -- something we'd never be allowed to do at the office as it would interfere with "work."

So why don't we? Tradition. Conditioning. Great cultural myths about "productivity" when nothing is actually produced anymore, except in China. And we have to beat them Chinese don't you know, have to work longer hours for less wages so we can top them in... something.

And then of course there's the issue that if we admit we do nothing at our jobs, we really admit we do nothing with our lives. At least for Americans, our jobs are our lives now with sixty hour weeks the norm and social interactions more and more relegated to the internet. To admit we do nothing with our lives, just let the minutes tick by while looking at lolcats, is one of those things that's just too horrifying to contemplate. Best to just look busy. You might even fool yourself...

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