Conspicuous production

We were blitzing Interstate 95, from Boston to Miami - and we were doin' business.

My wife and I took some time off last February for an auto trek to warmer climes, and as the scenery changed from rain-drenched New York to the loving warmth of Georgia, the Carolinas, and Florida, we were cookin' - on the phone, making deals, cultivating contacts. Working.

Our cell-phone service covers the entire nation with a flat, monthly rate, and we dialed up most of it. She called clients and closed sales as we sailed through Virginia.

I stayed connected to colleagues through the Carolinas. And when we came within password distance of a telephone plug, I logged on via laptop to the newsroom.

It's the new American way.

Americans have long and successfully been accused of conspicuous consumption.

But the 1990s give us the flip side: conspicuous production.

We work really hard. Shelley Coolidge's cover story this week points to a society that seems as obsessed with working as with spending.

People in other countries think we're nuts. The French are so appalled at this element of Americanization that they passed a law - surprise, surprise - prohibiting long hours on the job.

More to the point, we work really well. We don't make Renaults. We do make $500 computers, and, with some help from Al Gore, we made the Internet.

Americans are the most productive work force - making more stuff in less time - on the planet.

Ironically, it's one of the items high on Alan Greenspan's list of things to fret about. America's amazing productivity gains have allowed its corporations to make higher profits without hiring more workers. That keeps labor costs down, which keeps the lid on inflation and interest rates.

Fed Chairman Greenspan questions how long the US can keep up the good work. Maybe he thinks we'll all get tired - put our computers on standby, our phones on voice mail, and take a nap.

After reading Shelley's story, one wouldn't be surprised. The workplace is not only more intense, it follows you - into the car, the home, the theater, etc.

Whatever the reasoning, the concern seems reasonable. Productivity gains should at least flatten out, at some point, as the pace of technology improvements slows and people tire of 12-hour days.

Curiously, Shelley found a variety of explanations for why Americans seem so determined to nick their noses on the grindstone.

Some experts cite a downsized workforce, a remnant of the restructurings that swept through 10 years ago. Some call it mere perception - we're not working harder; we're just more stressed.

Anecdotally, it also seems to me that many people simply like their jobs more than they used to.

The workplace has become smarter. The crowd in the corner office has frequently learned to tap workers' intelligence and creativity beyond their specific job responsibilities. And who wouldn't want to spend time in a place that encourages you to be better?

Teams, individualized corporations, leadership initiatives - even moderately modern managements have learned to use such concepts to create more productive, more stimulating, more inspiring workplaces.

Even so, there's something slightly askew about doing business during vacation or from the sidelines of your kid's soccer game. And there's a lot to be said for. (y-a-w-n) taking ... a ... na... zzzzz.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Conspicuous production
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today