June 4, 2006

Idle talk.

I love this Dave Barry review of Tom Lutz's book "Doing Nothing."
Lutz was inspired to write it by his 18-year-old son, Cody, who decided to take a year off before starting college, and seemed content to spend his time lying on Lutz's couch watching TV. Lutz found that his son's behavior angered him, and this anger troubled him, because in his own youth he had spent a fair number of years engaged in countercultural activities not widely considered productive....

And so Lutz set out to trace the history of society's attitudes toward working and slacking. He begins with two 18th-century giants who professed opposite views. On one side stands Benjamin Franklin, creator of the archetypal workaholic, Poor Richard, who believes man has a moral duty to waste not a single moment in the relentless effort to accumulate wealth. On the other side stands Samuel Johnson, creator of the "Idler," who believes the only value of work is to enable leisure, and the highest calling is to do as little as possible....
Both were bullshitting, Lutz tells us.
Lutz concludes that most of us are both workaholic and slacker — "we all tend to embody a bit of both ends of the spectrum." We feel we work too hard, but also that we fritter away much of our time. We scorn the lazy and unproductive, but we long to win the lottery so we can hit the hammock ourselves. We criticize our kids for doing exactly what we did when we were their age.
I put a lot of mental energy into thinking about whether I'm working too hard and about whether I'm goofing off all the time. Then there's that strange intermediate idea -- Barry talks about it -- where you think about how the seeming goofing off is really part of the work -- warming up, somehow, or gestating material. This blog is the very essence of all that.

One of the benefits of being single -- a topic we were just talking about -- is that there's no one keeping an eye on you, passing judgment on you for working too hard and goofing off too much -- which you know you are. You're probably doing both, right? You're surely doing at least one. And shouldn't your goofing off time be more active and pleasurable, more dynamic and outdoorsy? And shouldn't your work be more productive, more efficient, more beneficial to all mankind? More importantly, what's on TV?


Alan said...

Thank you...If I hadn't read your last comment I would have probably goofed off for too long and forgot about tonight's finales on HBO. :)

Robert said...

Two lumberjacks decide to have an old-school all-day woodchopping contest. Two men, two axes, one woodpile. The day of the contest arrives, and the lumberjacks turn their backs to one another and start chopping wood.

The first lumberjack has been chopping away - thwack, thwack, thwack, thwack - for about an hour, when behind him the familiar sound of his opponent's chopping ceases. He doesn't turn around - gotta stay focused - and continues to work. A few minutes later, he hears his opponent resuming his chopping. This pattern continues all day - about once an hour, he hears his opponent slow and stop for a few minutes, while he presses on diligently.

Finally, at the end of the day the contest ends. The harder-working lumberjack turns around, and is astonished to see that his opponent has chopped three times as much wood as he has. He is outraged.

"How the heck did you cut that much more wood than me! I worked hard all day while you slacked off every hour! What the heck were you doing when you weren't chopping wood, anyway?"

The second lumberjack replied calmly, "I was sharpening my axe."

Icepick said...

More importantly, what's on TV?

Iron Chef: America!

hygate said...

I disagree with the premise that Franklin was all about making money. He also worked hard at founding and participating in scientific societies, lending libraries, and a volunteer fire department to name just three non-money making ventures. Additionally, once he made his pile he retired and pursued his scientific and political interests. And he observed that beer is proof that God loves man. It sounds like he agreed with Johnson (and a lot of other people before him) that the purpose of work is to allow idleness. Any real difference between Franklin and Johnson would be the proper use of that idleness.

Patrick Wahl said...

My guess is most people want to work, but they want to work at something where they feel productive and useful and somewhat in control of what they do. Those are probably not common elements of the average job unfortunately. Goofing off gets old very quickly. My threshold for lying on a beach doing nothng is about 20 minutes.

nina said...

Don't you think that it is uniquely American to worry about this? Do other cultures equally stigmatize leisure time and call it goofing off time? Perhaps. Some modern Asian societies come to mind. But we alone haven't exalted leisure time in the way that most have. Such a shame.