About 1990, an acquaintance of mine got the job of his dreams. One sign of his new status was his employer-issued BlackBerry interactive pager. At the time, this device was state of the art. Older pagers displayed only a telephone number to call back. This one allowed for a short immediate response.
A few weeks later, I asked him how he liked the job. He responded affirmatively. However, his expression changed drastically when his BlackBerry went off. “My electronic leash,” he grunted, pulling it from his pocket. He tapped a response for thirty seconds, and then returned to our conversation. About a minute later, the thing started buzzing again.
My friend was one of the first to experience something that now dominates daily life for many people. Modern communications are invading leisure time to the point that it is rapidly disappearing. People assume their jobs are twenty-four-hour commitments.
In the more industrial America of the twentieth century, most laborers knew the hours they would be expected to work. Even when industries operated around the clock, the schedule was usually divided into three regular shifts. The work was hard, but when their shift ended, workers went home to their families. The next sixteen hours belonged to them to use as they saw fit.
For most people, those days are gone.
A “24/7” Culture
Replacing the forty-hour work week is the “24/7” culture. The ideal employee “works hard and plays hard.” The man who puts in an eighty-hour week is supposed to spend his weekend whitewater rafting with his family or friends.
Living a 24/7 life requires a whole culture that follows the same schedule. Therefore, all-night gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants, and pharmacies proliferate.
In her book On the Clock, Emily Guendelsberger analyzed the work mentality by quoting an online job application from Amazon. “Working nights, weekends, and holidays may be required … Overtime is often required (sometimes on very short notice) … Work schedules are subject to change without notice.” Most employers are not this explicit, but many display similar attitudes in their scheduling processes.
This schedule flexibility is especially found in low-paying jobs, in which the employee is always expected to be in motion during working hours. Even to catch a couple of minutes of rest is discouraged. The introduction to On the Clock relates a saying attributed to the man who made McDonald’s into an international chain, Ray Kroc, “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.”
The Home as Workplace
Such problems also extend to professionals. They may have greater control over their working environments, but they are often on call 24/7. Leslie Perlow of the Harvard Business School described the dilemma in Sleeping With Your Smartphone in 2012. She observes that “We are all too familiar with the challenges of the ‘always-connected’ age of the smartphone, iPad, Netbook, laptop…. We feel overwhelmed, overworked, always interrupted, lacking time to focus….”
The dangers are also present for those who work from home via computer. On the surface, this trend seems to benefit both employers and workers. Employers need not provide office space, and employees do not need to commute. In theory, workers should have more hours with their families. Unfortunately, it seldom happens that way.
The most critical problem with this arrangement is that the barrier between home and work disappears. Employers and co-workers expect answers from the home worker immediately regardless of the hour. On their part, home-based employees are often distracted during working hours by parenting and other home-based duties. The result is frustration all around.
Isolation and Reconnection
Judith Shulevitz’s article in November 2019 issue of The Atlantic, “Why You Never See Your Friends Anymore,” explains a little-analyzed effect of the 24/7 culture, which is isolation. Many people appear to be always dancing on the line between frantic activity and their physical and emotional breaking points. This makes well-ordered personal relationships all-but-impossible in an atmosphere of constant fatigue.
This life is not what God intended for His human creatures. We are made for an honest day’s work by which we should make our living. However, the body and soul demand regular periods of rest and leisure. We can also find repose in conversation and relationships. The Third Commandment admonishes all to reserve the Sabbath for the physical, moral, and spiritual regeneration that comes from worship and an entire day of rest.
When we neglect the demands of body and soul, we can expect the frenzy and isolation that comes with a world that never rests.