When the sky is the limit: Busyness in contemporary American society

Gosh, we lead busy lives. Most of the people I know no longer have the time, even occasionally, to stop and think. And yet, this is not because we accomplish or do so much. In fact, in comparison with other historical and some contemporary societies, we do not. Think, for instance, about the masses of itinerant agricultural laborers who participated in the Gang System in early industrial England after 1834…. This form of labor organization was an answer to the demand for irregular work-force which arose with the development of large-scale commercial agriculture. Bands of workers of all ages and both sexes, under the direction of an overseer moved from farm to farm as their services were required. They worked long hours for a little pay, and most of them depended entirely on what they earned doing so. Life before the industrial revolution was not better, and even affluence and higher status rarely translated into leisure. At the end of the 18th century it was still common for gentlewomen, mistresses of large dairy farms, to take an active part in production, not only as a manager, but as the most skilled, and therefore most involved manual worker. Conditions across the Atlantic differed, but not dramatically. American factories were no playgrounds either, not then and not much later, as anyone who watched Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and/or read Dreiser’s American Tragedy, would well recognize. The hours, by our standards, were exceedingly long, the discipline oppressively harsh, the work copious and painstaking enough to keep one thoroughly exhausted by the end of the day and thus out of mischief on Sundays. Only…it did not. Somehow, these overworked people did not feel busy
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