Labor Day is here and with it the end of summer.
It is the kick off into the holiday madness, or as I like to call it Domestic Violence Restraining Order Season. The Christmas decorations are already up in some retail outlets, and I have people on my Facebook dusting of the photos of last year’s decorations and crazy cupcake designs. But let’s focus on the holiday in front of us.
Labor Day began as a holiday to honor the working class in this country. For the children it is a day off from school and it should be a day of relaxation for a massively overworked society. Report after report shows that America has become a compulsive society consumed with work and being online. We are constantly in contact and focused on getting ahead.
It’s little wonder that we have to force ourselves to take days off. In a country where a person’s value is seemingly determined by the car they drive and the clothes they wear, how can we not expect people to be obsessive about the amount of money they’re making, the sales they are projecting and, consequently, to compete about how many hours they work?
In the 24-7 world of the Internet, being connected is now obligatory. The expectation of instant communication at all times with everyone has infiltrated our society to such a degree that if we should actually sit down to dinner and not return a text instantly it is assumed something is wrong.
Concerts these days are streamed live by the thousands of people who paid to be there to their friends who aren’t. They bring their iPhones to check text messages and e-mail out-of-focus photos while in the middle of watching some performance that they have spent a couple of hundred dollars on.
I’m a big fan of technology and the ability to transfer our workplace, effectively anywhere, for those of us who don’t have manufacturing jobs. On the other hand, for those of us who are incapable of shutting off a communication device for even an afternoon, I think that the transition to a constant contact society is doing harm.
Though the original meaning of Labor Day has lost some of its shine in those parts of the country that are more rust belt than engine of society, we should still take a moment and remember what the intent was, to commemorate the economic and social achievements of workers. Principally begun in Australia as an outgrowth of a strike, it came to stand for the concept of an eight-hour work day, and eight hours of recreation.
The idea of eight hours of recreation is foreign to almost all of us today, which is ironic because the advent of technology was supposed to free us. In some ways it has. As I have written about before, productivity for many people has become mobile. This is where the law of unintended consequences comes into play, and we see how the dream and the reality meet, but in a way that no one foresaw.
For knowledge workers, technology has actually become the great enslaver, and for manual workers technology has dramatically reduced the need for their efforts. When the factories of yesteryear were redesigned to accommodate robots, workers were displaced and we have not found a way to utilize them. This has resulted in a surplus of labor for a deficit of need.
There are many people who look at office workers and think that because they are not swinging a hammer, or riveting sheet metal, that they are not doing “real” work. But the truth of the matter is, in terms of stress, and costs to one’s life, the office worker, who is now expected to be “on call” all the time, is likely suffering from greater stress than the steelworker, who worked an eight-hour day, and though they were physically exhausted at the end of the day, could go home, and put their job behind them.
Labor used to mean hourly shift workers, and it still does, but as we have progressed in society to become more dependent upon our knowledge skills, we have also changed the face of labor. As work has become portable, people are more capable of working all the time, and the traditional concept of a laborer needs to adapt.
Oddly more people call themselves “professionals” these days, yet we all are more likely to be considered labor thanks to technology, and we should take advantage of the original intent. To take a break, and recognize our accomplishments, whether they are wrought by hammer or computer, we all need to relax more.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles divorce and child custody lawyer specializing in father’s and men’s rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra