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The more time-saving gadgets we invent, the less time we actually have – The Age

‘Thank the stars tomorrow is a day off.’
More than 150 years before the first known use of the phrase ”work-life balance”, the eight-hour-day movement sprang from the Industrial Revolution in Britain, demanding an equal allotment of time for ”work, recreation and rest”. The cause was picked up by the Australian labour movement, leading to campaigns by stonemasons in Sydney and Melbourne that resulted in eight-hour-day shifts for members.
It took until the late 1940s to get a six-day week reduced to five, but from the ’50s onwards it was generally assumed that, thanks to technology, we’d be working less. With all of those robots, flying cars and instant meals about the place, the only challenge facing us would be how to fill our endless hours of leisure.
In one episode of The Jetsons, set 100 years into the future (and 50 years from now), George Jetson wakes, overwrought, from a nightmare in which his boss has been trying to force him to work two whole hours a day. Ah, George Jetson, if only …
The truth is, computer technology and the push-button age, rather than relieving us of life’s drudgery, have actually allowed what poet Philip Larkin named ”the toad work” to squat all the more squarely and implacably over our lives. And so we struggle to stay awake through intercontinental breakfast teleconferences; get apologetic, passive-aggressive late-night texts from co-workers reminding us to bring some trifle or other along to tomorrow lunchtime’s meeting (that’s trifle as in a silly thing, not a custard pudding, generally); and when browsing through our personal email last thing before sleep (sex, you ask? – my god, you must be joking, we’re far too tired), every invitation to join another professional network sparks a nagging fear of being left behind, out of the loop and on our arses.
The work-life game is rigged these days, with the internet and forces of globalisation combining to keep us always on call, whatever the line in which we work.
And while, in the past, once you had a job, you’d be pretty much left alone to get better at it with practice and over time, these days ”professional development” must be constantly undertaken, skills honed, refreshed and upgraded ad nauseam. Those of us working within larger organisations are devised increasingly banal and pedantic ”compliancy trainings”, to be completed online, and in our own time. (Whenever I hear the words ”compliant”, ”appropriate behaviour” or even the creepy ”human resources” itself, my grumpy conviction that we are living inside an Orwellian dystopia deepens.)
And don’t even think about retirement. With the ageing population and hard realities of life in a post-crisis global economy, many of us will be toiling into our dotage. Fifty years from now, it will not be uncommon for the more ancient drones among us to check out while on duty, breathing our last at our desks. Or perhaps expiring mid (hologram-enhanced) PowerPoint delivery, or at the climax of an especially arduous brain-storming session with that energetic new team leader, an android named ACTUATE 5000.
So thank the stars tomorrow is a day off.

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