ATLANTA — According to futuristic soothsayers back in the 1960s, one of our biggest problems by the year 2000 would be figuring out what to do with all of our leisure time. In 'Future Shock,' author Alvin Toffler said that we might actually need "leisure counselors" to help us accomplish that fanciful goal.
Mr. Toffler wasn't much of a prognosticator, but he could sure give some stand-up comedians a run for their money.
Of course, all of this spare time would be the result of automation, which was going to do most of the work for us. Time magazine plunged off the deep end when it said in a 1966 article: "By 2000, the machines will be producing so much that everyone in the US will, in effect, be independently wealthy."
Well, here we are in glorious 2000. Are you living a life of luxurious ease in a state of semi-retirement, spending languid, lazy days by the pool while machines do all your work?
Or are you instead so swamped with work that you barely even recognize your own children any more as you struggle to keep up with the mortgage and the SUV payments?
What were Alvin Toffler and the folks at Time thinking to suppose that automation was going to free people from having to work so much?
Think about it logically. When every workplace has automation and technology, as they now pretty much do, then it no longer gives anyone a competitive edge.
Everything simply moves faster, deadlines come quicker and everyone has to scramble more to make a buck. So much for life on easy street.
I guess that Toffler, in his happy-headed reveries about a Utopian future, forgot that somebody was going to have to create and maintain all of that wonderful, leisure-generating machinery.
It turns out that that takes a huge portion of the workforce and these aren't exactly relaxing, part-time jobs.
Nope, these are jobs that keep bleary-eyed workers hunched over keyboards in tiny, windowless cubicles for 14 hours a day and then sends them home with beepers in case anything goes wrong while they're trying get a few winks. This is a major clue we aren't living in some utopia where the hardest thing anyone does is try to figure out how to fill up his free time.
Instead, most of us seem to be collectively harried - lemmings inexorably headed full throttle toward some unseen precipice.
I don't want to blame it all on our seemingly insatiable need to accumulate meaningless material things even at the expense of our family lives and our emotional and physical health, but.... What else can you conclude when you see people driving around in $35,000 pickup trucks?
Ever since civilization was first invented in Mesopotamia people have been pressed for time trying to keep up with the Nebuchadnezzars. Excessive leisure time probably went out with the Stone Age, where at least people could laze around for three days after a big kill and the ensuing feast. Granted, life was brutish then, but between road rage, school shootings, and gangster rap, we haven't exactly achieved a state of refined and peaceful wisdom.
Maybe if this white-hot economy would go into recession we could all sit back, take a breather and reassess our priorities.
Whoops. Now I'm sounding as starry-eyed as Alvin Toffler.
*Greg Strange is a meteorologist in Atlanta.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society