Sunday, April 13, 2008

Desperately Seeking Willoughby

Rod Dreher:

I come home from work at 7, 7:30 most every night, in part because I've taken on so much extra work. But I'm not the last one left in the office most nights. Everybody's working really, really hard -- and these days, glad to have a job. I have never had insomnia in my life, but for the past five weeks or so, I've not been able to get to sleep without sleep drugs. I can't say that I'm anxious about any one thing, either -- it's just what's in the air, so to speak. And I know we're not the only ones going through it, my family. Others are too. People we know.

How is it that our generation is better educated than our parents' generation, and wealthier, more or less, but they had so much more time to ... live?


When I was a kid, we were at fish fries or barbecues most every weekend. People had time to socialize, to relax and enjoy being together. I don't know anybody my age who's like that.

Something is wrong.

My dad says in his generation, everybody worked hard, but few people were as stressed out as my generation is. And I think: if my little family is stretched so thin, given that we're on solid economic footing and live a relatively uncomplicated life, what on earth is it like for others?

Where does it all end?

Read the rest of the post here. I'm certainly sympathetic, but I've always been a bit wary of the "life used to be less stressful" thesis. Watch this classic Twilight Zone episode in its entirety (don't miss the end). As you watch it, keep in mind that it aired originally in 1960 -- almost half a century ago. Sure, it's just TV fiction. But does anything about it seem familiar or relevant? Was the rat race any slower back then? Remember, Leave It To Beaver and Andy Griffith were also on the air in 1960. Has "the simple life" always had a special appeal, even during times we believe were simpler?


Blogger Hellblazer said...

I think the thing I like best about that TZ episode is the opening bit where the boss keeps berating him calling Ross "a green little boy". The hilarious part is that "green little boy" was hired by his competitor and took the 3 million dollar account. Seems like the big boss doesn't quite understand what happened there.

Know it's just background - backstory on Wiliams' stress - but it also provides a stereotype of the clueless hierarchy in corporations. Berating those below us for our own mistakes.

4/13/2008 9:22 AM  
Anonymous Thomas Daulton said...

Of course one simple, logical explanation is this: during the barely-remembered "simpler times", the speaker, obviously, necessarily, was younger -- and generally speaking, even younger adults have less responsibility and stress than older adults (doubly so for kids vs. adults). Such is life.

However, I really do think things were simpler and less stressful in the past. Technology is a wonderful thing, but there's no denying that it introduces complexity and stress into our lives as time goes on and it continues to advance...

First of all, the unintended consequences of technology keep piling up, and so often it seems like the more consequences accrue, the more we try and solve them with technology, leading to a vicious cycle.

Second, once it's generally accepted that technology can empower us, particularly at the workplace -- then the bar is raised and very quickly people are expected to produce those powerful results, and fired if they don't. That's extra stress... a lot of it. E.g. cell phones and laptops -- originally developed to allow us to work from remote locations, say during an emergency... pretty quickly the relatively successful office workers found they were expected to check their e-mails and teleconference from vacation or while at home off-duty.

But just generally speaking, this issue of "simplicity" and "stress relief" is something most Americans complain about, and then they themselves make choices which perpetuate the problem. America has always chosen the side of "progress and acquisition" when confronted with the choice between simplicity and progress/greed. It's a trade-off and America always weighs in on one particular side. Simple living has never been a national goal, not in the way it is in countries like, maybe, Italy or Mexico. People from Generation X [full disclosure, I'm one], and younger, we have raised the issue fairly vocally over the past ten years or so, thus it might become a national goal in the future. But it certainly isn't one now.

4/13/2008 4:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Technology plays an ever increasing role in the stress in people's lives.

What was once a convenience quickly becomes an obligation.

4/13/2008 10:32 PM  
Blogger Dave S. said...

Substitute "three martinis" for "sleep drugs" and this wouldn't be out of place in a lament about "modern life" in the 1950s.

4/13/2008 11:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't bother with him much, but isn't Dreher one of those hacks who specializes in today's minor annoyance betokens a profound (to me) universal truth fluff pieces?

C'mon, CR, you usually have better judgement than messing with his ilk.
-- sglover

4/14/2008 1:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From where I'm standing, an English teacher in a large metropolitan southern city who teaches at a private Catholic school, to dismiss the effects of the advertizing industry on the American psyche is a serious mistake.

Nearly all of the advertizing we're subjected to is designed to foment the impression that our lives lack something, be it status, influence, wealth, security, the correct degree of masculinity (or femininity), or good ole sexual prowess. While I'm not a big believer in the life-was-better-then premise, it is true that advertizing plays a much more significant role in contemporary American society than it did - say - in the 1950's. It is ever present and more sophisticated today than it ever has been. And remember, it is specifically designed to influence how we feel, how we perceive ourselves and others, how we perceive our lives, our successes, our needs, wants, and desires - and the degree to which all of these are lacking. It is designed to create dissatisfaction because if it doesn't we will not view the product or service being advertized as offering any real value.

4/14/2008 6:40 AM  
Anonymous goldhorder said...

I would agree that most American's stress is self induced. Everybody gives lip service to the "simple life" but nobody wants to make the decisions to live the simple life. Somebody living in California could have sold their modest ranch home two years ago for a ridiculous sum of money...moved to Paulding County, Ohio and purchased with cash a small mansion with acreage for 300K....and still had 1.7 million left over. Hell they could have used the 1.7 million left over to buy every business in downtown Paulding and lived off the revenues the rest of their life. LOL. Living the simple life means shunning the rat race. It means giving up the desire to appear glamorous to others...It can mean leaving family and friends but most people I know have moved around from job to job anyways the last 10 years. There are some very cheap places to live in the US...nobody wants to live there though. BTW I live in Paulding County, Ohio some of the cheapest real estate in the US. I bought a 2 acre lot with a ranch style home in the country for 72K three years ago. Paid cash. LOL. I think during the real estate boom prices went up .1 percent. After the boom we have gone down .1 percent.

4/14/2008 10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sglover pretty much nailed it.

Rod, if you are stressed and don't have time for fish fries and barbecues, it's because you made that choice.

People need to take responsibility for their decisions. In my lifetime I've held positions that literally required me to work over 100 hours a week (but only for a couple of months) and I currently work around 40 hours a week. I have fish fries, barbecues, fishing trops, etc.

Rod is a master at navel gazing, but it's time he took responsibility for his navel.


4/14/2008 10:11 AM  
Anonymous NeilS said...

I think things have changed.

Let me give an example. My dentist told me that when he went to school they had to look hard for someone in his class who ground his teeth. There was only one. Now they have to look for someone who DOES NOT grind their teeth.

Why has this changed?

4/14/2008 12:40 PM  
Blogger Hellblazer said...

Why has this changed?

Widely available stimulants which people use to get ahead and then become addicted to them.

Wide scale use of amphetamines are probably a modern phenomena, but their use isn't strictly required by today's society.

Well, at least if you're not in the military. "Go Pills" are required if you're in that line of work, sadly.

4/14/2008 1:12 PM  
Anonymous mary said...

Well, yes and no. Life certainly seems simpler when you look back on it minus all the things you hated and feared at the time. When I was a kid we had turmoil from the civil rights struggle/Viet Nam/Nixon and the aftermath. Also, my family was on the economic downside. I think my dad would laugh at the idea that life was less stressful (he was the sole breadwinner and he was laid off for months and months during the mid-70s, with 4 kids . . . ). Ditto for my mom, for complementary reasons (she felt completely swallowed up by the challenge of raising 4 kids on not very much money).

In many ways, life for relatively affluent types is simpler (aka easier) now than it was then, thanks to technological progress that makes it really easy to take care of day-to-day needs -- and also thanks to economic/class segregation (the enclosure of many (white) affluent types to relatively homogeneous, protected enclaves). But this has come at a price -- a lack of community, longer and longer commutes, environmental damage, growing economic inequality, etc. For those on the downside of the growing economic divide, life is certainly not easy/easier. And I would think even the people on the upside would feel anxious about the bad, even evil choices this country's leadership has made -- economic, political, judicial, moral, environmental, military.

So you could say that this anxiety has to do with chickens coming home to roost. It's probably hopelessly idealistic of me to wish that (affluent) Americans would see it and respond to it this way -- i.e., as citizens holding themselves and their leaders accountable-- rather than merely as a threat to their personal well-being.

4/14/2008 1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe it is because we have leveraged out future to a degree never seen before, perhaps that leads to a rather more common sense of anxiety than existed when we did not have to borrow from the future.

4/14/2008 4:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Between Beliefnet, his job and the Dallas Morning News blog, Dreher's entire waking life is spent blogging and writing about how good times were and how everything is going to hell in a handbasket now. Please don't ully this excellent blog with his tripe.

His latest screed from the past Sunday paper is getting trashed this week here:

4/15/2008 3:07 PM  

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