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John P . Robinson and Geoffrey Godbey Busyness as Usual The wish to live as intensely as possible has subjected humans to the same dilemma as the water flea, which lives 108 days at 8 degrees Centigrade, but only twenty-six days at 28 degrees, when its heartbeat is almost four times faster, though in either case its heart beats 15 million times in all. Technology has been a rapid heartbeat, compress­ ing housework, travel, entertainment, squeezing more and more into the allotted span. Nobody expected that it would create the feeling that life moves too fast. — Th eo d o r e Ze l d in (1994) BOOKS AND ARTICLES ABOUT THE ACCELERATION OF DAILY LIFE ARE themselves accelerating. From Burns’s BusyBodies (1990) to Schor’s Overworked American (1991), O’Hara’s Working Harder Isn’t Working (1993), Hochschild’s Time Bind (1997), Andrews’ Circle of Simplicity (1997), Davis and Meyers’ Blur (1998), Gleick’s Faster (1999), Robinson’s Work to Live (2003), Jacobs and Gerson’s Time Divide (2004), Epstein and Kalleberg’s Fightingfor Time, Warner’s Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age ofAnxiety, and Honore’s In Praise ofSlowness (2004), more and more social observers have published their concerns over a pace of American life that appears out of control. Rosa (2003) has provided a theoretical basis for expect­ ing the inevitability of these trends in the writings of major sociolo­ gists, including Durkheim, Marx, Weber, and Sorkin. As de Tocqueville observed more than 150 years ago, “The American is always in a huny.” social research Voi 72 : No 2 : Summer 2005 407 Economists have also weighed in on these issues o f time compres­ sion, perhaps starting with Linder (1970), who, in his insightful treatise The Harried Leisure Class, may have been the first economist to predict the frantic pace o f m odem life and leisure. As specialized work led to higher rates o f productivity, the increased level o f products and services had to be consumed. Hence the process o f consuming must be sped up—by consuming more rapidly, by consuming higher quality versions of a product or service, or by simultaneous consumption in which one consumed more than one thing at a time. Such an accel­ eration of consumption led to an acceleration of the pace of life and a harried leisure class. Much o f what Linder discussed with regard to time scarcity was perceived scarcity. Work time and leisure existed in a theoretical equi­ librium, he argued, in terms of outputs. Increases in the productivity of work destroyed this equilibrium. The outputs from leisure then had to be increased to restore the balance. This was done by combining leisure activity with a higher volume o f goods in the ways mentioned earlier, thus commodifying leisure and bringing its outputs into parity with the increased outputs o f work. This new situation led to a general perceived scarcity of time in modem life. Interestingly, Linder’s conclusions were not that people would work longer—a common misinterpretation of his work—but rather that they would attempt to increase the yield on a unit of tim e in all areas o f life-minimizing activities such as singing or political debate, which could not easily have their yield on time spent increased. The value o f efficiency and increased productivity, carried to extremes, he argued, produced a kind of decadence in which the goal of economic growth is never questioned. More recently, economists Hamermesh and Lee (2003) have played down the seriousness of concerns over a speeded up lifestyle, character­ izing it in large part as “yuppie kvetch.”Analyzing time stress data from five Western countries, they concluded that “complaints about busy life­ styles and lack o f time are generally a feature o f well-off couples who have a lot of income and not enough time to spend it.” Not that higher408 social research income couples are making irrational decisions; they are simply facing the inevitable constraints on their ability to enjoy their wealth. This article reviews various of these philosophical issues in the context of US national survey data concerning trends in the time pres­ sures and stress...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 407-426
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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