With rapid advances in technology and so many time-saving innovations, our basic needs are easier to provide than ever before. What used to take our ancestors an entire day of labor, we accomplish with the push of a button. In theory, we should have huge amounts of extra time: for leisure, our hobbies, our children, our marriages, our homes. But what have we done with all our extra time instead? Worked more.
Perhaps because we’ve developed the awful habit of every time our means increase, we immediately raise our standard of comfort to just above it — leaving us in a perpetual state of discontent.
Or perhaps it’s because we increasingly submit ourselves to the mercy of a marketplace which has perfected the ability to exploit our vices and shape us into the ever-fattening consumers they’d prefer that we be. Always teaching us about the many things we had no idea we wanted (err…needed?).
Or maybe we’ve just blindly accepted a way of working that was passed onto us, without questioning whether it’s still the best way to do things (or if it ever was)? Or if, given the changes in the economy and technology, maybe there are drastically different ways to work that are just as good or better?
Either way, the notion that we should all spend 50-60 hours a week (more than half the waking hours of our lives) far away from our spouse and children, far away from our homes, doing work that has left many physically unhealthy, mentally stressed, emotionally unfulfilled, and too “busy” for the most important things in life…is, quite rightly, being questioned. We are learning to work smarter, more flexibly, more independently, more intentionally. We’re getting more active. We’re finding ways to work along side our families, spending more time together. And we’re beginning to look at our lives more holistically as we creatively seek out a life of truly meaningful and healthy work.
Work is good, and done right it’s fulfilling, sanctifying and beneficial to others. The problem is that though we’ve become the most productive workers in human history, we’ve forgotten why we even work in the first place. Rather than work being an opportunity to sanctify and humble ourselves and fulfill our part of the whole, we see it as our chance for personal aggrandizement or recognition. Instead of it being an opportunity to make the world better, it’s become the vehicle by which we attain greater comforts and more lavish entertainments. And finally, rather than our work nourishing our families and our homes, it has come to compete with them.
If our work doesn’t leave room for the highest ends in life — the enabling and supporting of leisure and a rich contemplative life, with plenty of room for silence, prayer, worship, family, neighbor, and all of life’s higher things — then we are doing it wrong. And all of these advances in technology, time-saving devices, and productive innovations are for naught.