Juliet B. Schor, a Professor of Sociology at Boston College, wrote in her latest book, Plentitude:
“Fifty years ago, the conventional wisdom was that technology would deliver us from toil. But as the country has grown richer in monetary and material terms, we’ve seen the opposite, a phenomenon I wrote about twenty years ago called ‘the overworked American.’ Core demands of work, commuting, and family life have been joined by escalating expectations in the realms of consumption, technology, and education. Analysts have also used other terms to describe what’s happening. The neuropsychiatrist Peter Whybrow called it ‘American mania.’”
Mania? Is this the word that characterizes our lives? Mania, defined in Merriam-Webster as “excitement manifested by mental and physical hyperactivity, disorganization of behavior, and elevation of mood.” Check. Check. Check.
How many of us maintain a mental checklist of everything that must be done – call about the phone bill, the mortgage; don’t forget to run by the bank – only to have two things replace every one we’ve checked off our lists as we scurry from home to work to errands to home to work? How many of us feel mandated to read every email as it arrives in our inbox, or check our work voicemail as soon as the light turns red? Stop, the light announces; you must check me before refilling your coffee cup, before proceeding with your life. How many of us tell ourselves the anxiety we feel is normal and that an inability to cope with it is a personal failure? How many of us live to fulfill a list instead of ourselves, hoping that if we can just keep up, just maybe we will earn a few minutes to sit in tranquility and escape, if only in our minds.