This blog post is written in response to two recent guardian articles:
‘Don’t treat love or leisure like a job’ (2) and ‘I used to think social media was a force for good. Now the evidence says I was wrong.’ (3)
Lets get our playtime back! It seems current society is more structured around work than ever before. Political debates are shaped by the belief that only workers have value; ‘leaders question the merits of admitting refugees on human rights grounds, and demand guarantees that immigrants will work productively.’ (1) Suggesting that humans not working in a country are worthless. This western ethos has been expressed throughout history with English settlers claiming and toiling the land in America, justifying their place in society. In their eyes, the Natives had no property rights and therefore little worth, because they didn’t seem to work.
More recently our beliefs of work and worth being inexplicably intwined have been pushed even further. Now people find it hard to describe any long term activities as worthwhile without turning them into a job; Marriage is described as ‘hard work’ and parenting seemingly the ‘hardest job in the world’. Even leisure is being engulfed by the language of work as, ‘people strive to achieve 10’000 steps and check off activities on their ‘Fun’ to do lists.’ (2) When leisure becomes a form of work and work a measure of worth our amount of leisure becomes a measure of worth pressurising us to express ‘successful leisure’.
The constant evaluation of everyone’s contribution to society is surely a factor in the rising anxiety and depression in society, especially in young people. We need genuinely relaxing breaks without anyone judging our actions, leisure should be for our own personal enjoyment and recuperation.
However now even seemingly work free leisure activities become a part of the world of work due to social media. By posting about hanging out with friends or having a meal out, we are fundamentally commercialising ourselves; entering ourselves into a kind of ‘Friend Economy’. ‘An emotional stock market where the stock is ourselves and we are encouraged to weigh our worth against others’. (2)
A society that sees everything as work and values work for worth, combined with social media platforms that allows us to compare ourselves with every other human on the internet will lead to feelings of inadequacy, In time manifesting anxiety and depression.
The cultural norm that – it’s valuable and important to work hard and be busy –, also filters down to our children who, ‘We overload with homework and assess against state-mandated benchmarks.’(3) Thus leading to many peoples joyless careerism once at college.
To affect positive change in this happening the best place to start would be primary and secondary schools. A research agency / social enterprise could work with schools and conduct research into finding where, how and why the work for worth ethos is being expressed. The infomation would be gathered from all the parties interacting with the school system from pupils to associates. Highlighting the hypothesised problem then facilitating meetings and workshops with appropriate participants to discuss alternative means of education. Education that focuses less exclusively on careerism and ‘work’ but more on students personal and intellectual development.
These results leading to a whole new school system potentially similar to that in Finland, where children don’t begin school until age 7. They have more recess, shorter school hours than many UK children do, and the lightest homework load of any industrialised nation. The focus is on developing young people who become successful and happy in their lives not solely in their careers.
Generation X may be lost to this but can we at least save the next generation from the burden of commoditised leisure!