Monday, June 21, 2010

When Leisure Becomes Labour

Growing up my parents would often tell me that I had a hollow leg. I was probably four feet tall and ate as if it was my day job. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I love a good meal and you can imagine my dismay when I realized I would have to cook for myself while I was away at school this past year.

Fortunately for me, I had an amazing roommate who taught me all the ins and outs of making different dishes. Some of you might find this silly, but I was really excited when I learned how to make potatoes. It seemed simple enough, but I had never tried my hand at it - desperate times called for desperate measures.

I grabbed my knife and my potato (from P.E.I) and began to peel. I think my first potato took me about ten minutes to finish. My hand was clumsy at the knife and deep down inside I felt as if I go to fast and I might cut my finger. By the end of the year I was a pro. I was in control of the whole process from peeling, to chopping, boiling, adding some spices, and finally, the part I was best at, eating the potato.

This weekend I was asked to help peel potatoes and when I looked at the amount we had to peel I almost fell over. I had only really done four potatoes in one sitting for myself, but there were over 30 potatoes to be peeled. I began looking for a knife when I was handed a potato peeler. This was something new. I had never used a peeler before and I wasn’t really sure how it worked.

I quickly became the master of the potato peeler. The skin was flying off the potato and before I knew it I had peeled over 15 potatoes. To be honest – I was rather proud of myself. In a short period of time, thanks to the help of our potato peelers, the three of us had peeled all the potatoes in under five or so minutes.

All this innovation (the peeler) and teamwork got me thinking about what life must have been like hundreds of years ago. When life was about “reaping what you sew” and working together as a community. When someone wanted to build a farmhouse for their animals to live in they needed the help of the nearby community to do it. Months of hard work would go into building a barn, but eventually with hard work and lots of extra hands the job would get done. As the years went on animals were used to help with jobs, after animals came small tractors, then even bigger tractors, until eventually you get to a point today where timed machines do a lot of the busy work.

We are entering an age of technology. Computers, cell phones, and video games are second nature in our daily lives. But, what happens when leisure becomes labour? We read earlier that machines are slowly making jobs easier, but there is a trend growing where our “leisure” technology is slowly bringing us closer and closer to work. Everything we do, even work, is becoming "accessible" from wherever you are. Is this For Better of For Worse?

What happens when leisure gets mixed up with someone’s labour? Could you imagine explaining the idea of a workout gym to someone who lives in a Third World country? I can hear them now, “You have a row boat that doesn’t go anywhere?”, “You run on a machine that moves for you?”, “You actually make heavy objects to lift?” We have created these “leisure” machines to keep us fit because we find ourselves working a forty-hour workweek and have these machines to help keep us fit. Our friend on the other side of the planet wakes up, gets in his boat, paddles to wear he works, lifts heavy objects around while running them to wear they need to be, and finally paddles back home at the end of the day.

We have developed a high-functioning technocratic society, but we need to be sure we are using it properly and don’t loose sight of what is important to us. There is a great big world out there and if you really think about it the size of the Internet is probably even bigger. Remember to take to the time to get outside, see that world, and really appreciate it.

If you don’t know where to start – maybe you could peel a few potatoes.

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