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Work & Leisure, The Debrief
Seven weeks of discourse about work and leisure.
Whenever I finish an essay series, I’ll send a debrief of the discussions and essays that happened in the comment section.
I just finished up a seven-part work and leisure series. Unfortunately, these posts were originally published for my former publication The Post which is now defunct. I was able to move all of the essays here but lost the comments in the process. I kept my favorites for the purposes of this debrief.
Only paid subscribers can comment on posts where they can share their commentary and essays and thus be included in debriefs. Join as a paying subscriber to join the discourse for my next series on capitalism which starts next week!
A lot of people thought this post sounded like their living hell. And it might be! I thinksums up the contention:
I also had a bit of a gut reaction, I think, to wondering if this world is better or not without more human work and involvement. Like is making things easier really better? Or are we just more detached from what we do? Soooo many questions.
All that said, my boss passed over a ChatGPT blog to me to see if it could be anything. It had like the most generic of foundations. But even that helped me turn the thing around faster. It made me do a double-take, as I've been so hard core against ChatGPT - even playing around with it. It feels like playing with fire, or a gun, or even an alien artifact without considering the domino effects.
But then that dumb article went by 10x as fast soooooo
Many showed up in the comments to talk about the difference between socialism and capitalism—particularly they were disturbed that one of my friends thought the Nordic countries could be considered an example of socialism, they can’t be. But it’s easy to understand why she would think that—the term “socialism” has been co-opted by the Democratic Socialism movement, which technically the Nordic countries are a good example of (even if that is definitely not the same thing as traditional “socialism”).thought the 20-hour workweek would only work for office jobs. He said:
I find this analysis really geared toward the upper middle and managerial classes. There are very few jobs out there that allow you to just work 20 hours a week. Yes, they exist, but certainly not for folks making $20 and hour who need to work full time.
To which I replied:
works 20-25 hours a week as a contractor, and wonders if that could be our future:
I thought this analysis was geared toward the upper middle and managerial classes as well, and I originally had a section about that in this essay. But then when I went back to look at the data from the industrial revolution I realized that was an inaccurate assumption. ALL work earned more and worked less back then, including blue collar work.
I'm really interested to see whether the rise of remote work and its related tech will allow for the commoditisation of more professions into smaller blocks of time. So rather than having a contract for 20 or 40 hours, people sell hours of their time to a variety of companies, giving them more freedom. Sort of how consultants and tutors are able to now. It's been pretty transformative for my life, so would be great to see others get to enjoy the same benefits.
I was curious about that too, and I wrote more about that in my next essay.said:
agreed with the sentiment:
This is the most refreshing CEO quote ever and I commend Jon Cheney for it: "Even as the CEO and founder—supposedly the most important job in the business—I would spend a solid two to three hours of an eight-hour workday basically doing nothing. I was reading the news, I would text somebody, I would go to lunch. And then I had like two hours, honestly more like one hour, of crazy intense work every day. And I got everything I really needed to get done in that one hour.”
felt this one, saying:
Admittedly, I spend a few hours a day chatting with coworkers, scrolling on social media wasting time, and working on some personal things. All because I know I have to stay in this office chair until 5pm. If I just worked for a solid 4-5 hours per day, I bet I could accomplish the same amount of work-related-work, but enjoy my personal life a lot more.
My instinct is you hit on it when talking about self-imposed rules, ie when we try to force ourselves to do something, it starts to feel like “work” even if it’s for fun. I’m a very self-forcing person, so it doesn’t feel natural to let myself do whatever. That said, there’s a school of thought I’m beginning to consider: that if we trust our body guide us on what to do next, what to eat, etc. then soon enough it would guide us into healthy choices. That’s a state that only seems possible in a fully self-guided state. If you have no agency in half your life, that seems to muddle up your body’s signal system in the other half, as it seeks “quicker” relief from 8+ hours of being overridden.
As usual,and I got existential to the point where we were wondering how much of a leisurely job is actual vs. mental. He said:
I'm very privileged insofar as my work is something that I'd probably do for free (not as much as I do it, but walking around Paris and talking about history is objectively fun). I was never able to last very long in jobs that I couldn't find some kind of joy in, which is the great challenge I think so many people face because it's rare to have that kind of choice.
To which I said:
I've been challenging the idea that "what I have is rare," recently. I wonder if it's true or a matter of perspective? I've had cab drivers who were more joyous in their jobs than many people I know. And I know people who have the same thing as me but don't find joy in it. How much of it is up to us?
And he replied:
It's one of those questions that is constantly oscillating for me between acknowledging my privilege and being aware that I'm also responsible for a certain amount of my "luck" / make a daily choice to decide what I focus on and what I choose to be detached from. I stop short of saying "I DID IT! LOOK AT ME!" but it's true, if I'm living some kind of dream, it's also because I've chosen to ... now, whether or not the choice was facilitated by plenty of external circumstances is (maybe?) secondary to the decision I made myself to live this life the way I see fit ... but now we're getting into a debate about determinism. I shall run for the hills.
I annotated John Maynard Keynes' 1930 lecture about what 2030 might look like and compared it to what people are saying about AI now. It’s pretty uncanny.said:
One thought that has stuck with me, and I can't seem to let go of, is the obsession with growth. We keep talking about growth year after year, and this gets really highlighted when juxtaposed with sustainability. I wonder, when is "growth" enough? What is "enough" growth? It seems we are stuck in this spiral of ever-increasing growth that we continue to use resources but haven't ever stopped to ask ourselves "is this really what we need?"
This is something I definitely want to understand better, because on the one hand this kind of growth mindset does make our economy richer (which funds a lot of jobs, social programs etc.), but on the other hand we have a big excess problem (as it relates to consumption), and an inequality problem (as all that funding isn't equitably distributed). I'd love to know how rich a country really needs to be, and how we can optimize where that wealth goes, and see if maybe we don't need a "growth at all costs" mindset. It's on my list to explore!
This post was a response to's book The Future is Analog. I could not have been more thrilled to see him stop by the comments section:
So glad you dug my book and honored you've integrated it into this fabulous post. I must push back a bit on what you wrote around school. I get what you're saying with work, and the balance of remote and personal as the ideal there, but the evidence around education is so tremendously, overwhelmingly on the side of analog, in-school, in-person that I can't read that without reaching out…
Think of your college experience. Think of your friend studying at Berkeley. How much of that experience can be transferred online, and delivered remotely, or partially remotely? How much of the learning there was tied into the conversations, jokes, interactions, and experiences of campus, classroom, lunchroom, recess? A lot.
You mentioned a hopeful future where students will be able to work at home at their own pace, completing assignments in the way that suits them best. This isn't some new innovation. It's homework. And a future where the best we can do for education is more homework delivered remotely is not one that will deliver us an improvement over the present.
I so agree with you that education is about the "conversations, jokes, interactions, and experiences of campus, classroom, lunchroom, recess," etc. But couldn't that still happen if all of our extra curricular activities were still in person? Austin, for example, went to a remote high school. Like you said the classwork was mostly homework. But there was a huge in-person component: one-on-one tutoring, participation on sports teams, theater performances, playing instruments in the orchestra, and any/all extra curricular activities were still in person. Couldn't students do their homework at home, then spend three to four hours of every day involved in their extra curricular activities?
Even in the case of college—one of the things many prestigious universities realized during the pandemic was that many students attend for the networking opportunities—being able to rub elbows with professors, prominent business leaders, and potentially even venture capitalists (in the case of Wharton), that could provide them with excellent job opportunities after school. Couldn't the actual class part—one teacher teaching to 100 students, say—be replaced with a video or reading? And then couldn't the school focus on having daily networking opportunities in person for students?
The issue I have is the divergence between the idealistic promise of this (everyone gets customized instruction, works at own pace, PLUS time to socialize and learn in person) and the reality when implemented. And the track record is just abysmal, despite the positive experiences some have had. There is potential for digital technology to benefit education tremendously, but if we are judging on what has worked when it has been tried, the evidence (scores, engagement, emotional impact, all other measures) greatly favors in-person… But I do love this debate! Think about how much better it would be in person!
From the community:
The work and leisure conversation must have been part of the zeitgeist because there were so many other amazing posts on the subject around the same time! Here are a few more essays on the subject from the community:
Is work worship? by Nix
We’ll have a debrief like this at the end of every series where I will share the comments and essays you share in the comments section of each piece.
Thank you for participating in the discourse!
P.S. I’m excited to dig into my new capitalism series next week! Thank you for being here and for supporting my work. I’ll be back June 5th!