In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes famously argued that by the time a century had passed, developed societies would be able to replace work with leisure thanks to widespread wealth and surplus. “We shall do more things for ourselves than is usual with the rich to-day,” he wrote, “only too glad to have small duties and tasks and routines.” Eighty years hence, it’s hard to find a moment in the day not filled with a duty or task or routine. If anything, it would seem that work has overtaken leisure almost entirely. We work increasingly hard for increasingly little, only to come home to catch up on the work we can’t manage to work on at work.
Take email. A friend recently posed a question on Facebook: “Remember when email was fun?” It’s hard to think back that far. On Prodigy, maybe, or with UNIX mail or elm or pine via telnet. Email was silly then, a trifle. A leisure activity out of Keynes’s macroeconomics tomorrowland. It was full of excess, a thing done because it could be rather than because it had to be. The worst part of email was forwarded jokes, and even those seem charming in retrospect. Even junk mail is endearing when it’s novel.
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