Yesterday I listened to an episode of The Ezra Klein Show, a podcast by the creator of Vox media, called Work as Identity, Burnout as Lifestyle. Klein talks to Anne Helen Peterson who wrote the popular Buzzfeed article about Millenial Burnout and Derek Thompson who wrote an article about Workism over at The Atlantic (which I’ve yet to read). Two things stood out to me among the millions of thoughts I had on the podcast and the subject.
The first is the way in which spirituality is either straightforwardly or subversively brought up in a neutral or slightly positive light. As millenials increasingly move away from organized religion and the Christian church in America it is a pleasant surprise to hear people pondering if religion has something positive to offer. In this case Peterson, Thompson, and Klein are mostly referring to idea of sabbath and internal vs. external models of identity. Specifically Thompson says
and weirdly I thought more about the benefits of believing in God more writing this piece than I have ever writing any other piece and part of that was because of this idea of…. falsification that if you place the weight of your self esteem on Twitter it's going to be falsified and if you place the weight of your esteem on work purely; it's going to be falsified. You're going to be disappointed from time to time, you're not going to get some rays, you're not going to get the traffic that you wanted from some article, you're not going to be able to finish some project on time. Work falsifies our hopes and dreams all the time. That's just that's just how the external world works but kind of a nice thing about a belief system that is oriented around a spiritual being is that God never comes down to fire people. It's a purely unfalsifiable belief and there's something really beautiful about unfalsifiable beliefs and falsifiable belief systems…
and then the group move into a conversation about leisure and the need for play time in America. (I’ll call it Sabbath). The next place in the podcast that I ponder religion is where they talk, near the end, about structures that might help them out of these two crisis: they talk about more leisure time, they discuss bringing back social clubs, such as Rotary, reducing time on social media, creating unions again. But they also two larger potential salves to our current wounds: Marxism and Buhddism both I see the merits of as either an opposition to Capitalism or a balancing act to it. But I still, at the end of the day, wonder about Jesus. I don’t have an answer yet about him and millennial burnout. But I have ideas forming.
The second thing that stood out to me is the conversation had on Capitalism’s ability to turn things outside government and work into places of efficiency, social interaction, monetary value, and the like. I just read an article that some people in my generation are using productivity apps like Slack and Trello to help their home life. While that feels sad to me on a number of levels, although understandable, my thoughts actually go to the origins of Cheaper by the Dozen. The real life family was doing efficiency testing long before app developers made Slack or Trello and while I’m not advocating for this necessarily I do imaginatively ponder what it would be like to bring the Gilbreths to the 21st century and have them do efficiency testing on our modern world. My theory is that they’d find that, exactly like we’re slowly becoming aware of, our combining, “time-saving” devices might actually be making us spend more time working and on our devices! (See timestamp 00:39:30 in the podcast).
I wonder cognitively what multi-tasking does to our brains, to our guts and our anxieties. And to that point our mental health as individuals and as a nation. How much of my mental health journey could be aided along by simply being on my phone less? By being present. By feeling like a kid in the 90s again; in the sweet spot between playing outside and reaching a few more goals in my video game adventure. Not being distracted by technology.
I often wonder how much I don’t know myself because I’m constantly distracted from paying attention to my feelings and my body by being sucked into my devices. How I’ve created this external identity through Google searches and come to unknow myself and my true identity.
These last thoughts are a little more jumbled. (Surprise! I’m distracted!)