The Modern Curse of Busyness

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Are we all just too busy? (Shutterstock)

What would you do with just a little extra time squeezed into the day? Would you sleep, cook, or exercise? Or would you do absolutely nothing?

We can all dream up the things we would get around to doing with just a few more hours, but as it turns out, we're already just too busy.

The modern curse of busyness is the subject of a new piece in The New Yorker by staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert. According to Kolbert, there was once hope that the future did not include incessantly ringing phones and overbooked calendars.

In 1928, the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that by 2028, industrial technological advances would so dramatically increase our productivity that working more than three hours a day would be unnecessary. He believed that the "standard of life" and the leisure time we enjoy would be so improved that money would no longer be of worry

He was right in predicting that society would grow wealthier, but monetary riches haven't quite accompanied that precious commodity of time we all strive for.

Today Kolbert weighs in on the Keynesian view of the "standard of life," and how the income gap plays into the busyness factor.


Elizabeth Kolbert

Produced by:

Ellen Frankman


T.J. Raphael

Comments [6]

J. Thomas from Brooklyn

The rich who own the machines of which Keyens speaks reap the benefits with no motive to share the benefits with the other 99%. The workers, whose labors have been lessened by Keynes' machines are either jobless (more free time?) or are working double shifts at low wages due to the surplus of available labor.

Jun. 02 2014 01:05 PM
J Demers from New York

It's not hard to see why we never got a 3-hour week: as technology allowed us to do more in 8 hours, employers happily banked the extra profits (and/or gave themselves fat raises and bonuses.) The only adjustment was to lay off workers, and make the surviviors take up the slack.

May. 30 2014 07:54 PM
Gerald Fnord from Palos Verdes, Ca.

I don't believe that there was any sort of grand conspiracy, but I do know that it was observed that the demand for civil rights by African-Americans and then the more general demands for freedom usually worshipped or dismissed under the rubric 'The '60s' were to a large extent consequences of reduced fear of poverty---and so less fear of people with the ability to hire and fire---increased leisure time, and a general sense that the curse under which we've lived since we started agriculture had lifted.

That is, I don't think a bunch of evil old white guys got together and said 'We've got to make life hard enough that people shut up and know their places.' but that the incentives to act syntonically with that end were there...people who aren't afraid, cold, and hungry start to act as if they had _rights_.

May. 30 2014 02:20 PM
kate dyson from Oregon

there were a few problems with this interview with Elizabeth Kolbert ... first she does not seem to know how to pronounce John Maynard Keynes name...I kept hearing Keens...when it is actually Kanes...please let her know...secondly...she mentioned that Keynes...had envisioned greater leisure time for labour...but that had not been realised...she neglected to mention that beginning with Nixon and followed up by Reagan...the economic ideology cast the Keynes philosophy aside in favour of Milton Friedman and the Chicago school of market...Ayn Rand...Friedrich of economic theory...blaming Keynes for lack of free time today is ludacris...put the blame where it belongs...with Reaganomics...trickle down theory ...Keynes was a trickle up guy...get your economic philosophies straight...

May. 30 2014 01:22 AM
alison from Philadelphia PA

I think the impression that low-income people have more 'free time' is because low-income jobs are almost never FULL TIME jobs.
People working retail or food service often have one or two jobs whose hours vary each week. And they spend immense amounts of time scheduling and coordinating childcare and workshifts.
The companies hire two part-time people rather than one full-time person, and keep the employees constantly struggling for an artificially limited number of paying hours.
So they may have more 'free time', but it's only time that's free from PAY.

May. 29 2014 01:02 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

I wish I had time to feel that I can relax with my downtime.

May. 29 2014 12:21 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.