How did we get to this moment obsessed with productivity and self-optimization?
Let me start off by saying that those who measure productivity at work or the self-employed may seem obsessed, but that’s because they need to be. Some of it is coercion, or the way the workplace is designed. Some of them are trying to make ends meet or have a better life. So it’s complicated.
I would say that our whole focus on productivity stems from the Protestant work ethic, that work is a moral equation: if you’re not busy all the time, you’re not a good person. You shouldn’t even really spend the money you earn. In the United States, there was an obsession in the early 20th century with applying Taylorism, a scientific approach to productivity, to things beyond the factory floor. Even the body, which dovetails with eugenics. Obsessed with perfecting machines to certain standards. This idea is still with us.
How do you see readers using your book to argue against the idea?
I want to provide something like a bird watching guide.I have sibley bird west A field guide that told me which birds I might see and a useful way to identify them. Someday I won’t need that guidebook anymore – but if I go somewhere new, I will. The guide format provides a shared vocabulary so you can talk to others about what you see.
I really respect the kind of book that puts a personal feeling sick or a personal flaw in a wider context. In this broader context, others feel the same way.
These feelings are not new. For example, your book cites the hippie movement of the 60s as a huge cultural push to opt out. But it didn’t last. Do you think the current situation makes it easier for people to opt out and stick with it?
Every generation has people who don’t align with cultural assumptions. It doesn’t always have a lasting impact on policy, but if you look at arts and culture, it’s there.
One of the things I’m trying to do is connect that same feeling, the desire for a meaningful life and a sense of autonomy.my students can pick up processing world, a magazine I’ve loved since the 80’s and 90’s and recognized everything in it – the humor, the sarcasm was a response to this disgusting culture. They will recognize themselves in it.
I want to help get the message across so that anyone who is feeling these things right now realizes that they are not alone. They are not alone now. Nor are they alone in history.
While teaching digital arts at Stanford, I was wondering if you noticed a trend in students talking about their time.
I taught from 2013 to 2021, and during that time there has definitely been more talk about burnout and mental health. Some students gravitate toward an entrepreneurial mindset—sleeping at your desk and work is your passion—while others reject it entirely. Of course, in the last few years of my teaching, people talked a lot more about rejecting those values because certain things started to feel so unsustainable.
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