The Nation looks at what happens when the workday never really ends:
The "new economy" of twenty-four-hour online shopping, global markets and just-in-time inventory churning, have created a demand for "flexible" labor--rapid-fire changes in schedules, shift-swapping, on-call staff. In a new book, Unequal Time, sociologists Dan Clawson and Naomi Gerstel survey how time is distributed across this new economic landscape, and finds that flexibility--and its evil twin, unpredictability--is creating a new social order that brings chaos to the workplace and the home. [...]
Employers can capitalize on the system by "staffing lean," hiring fewer workers on the cheap at part-time or just-short-of-full-time hours. Then overtime work practically becomes a de facto mandatory extra shift, even as workers' schedules remain chaotic.
Jobs with the most chaotic schedules are often called "precarious work--a job specifically structured to be unstable," with detrimental effects:
At home, workplace instability aggravates the chaos endemic to poor workers' family lives--manifested in unstable housing, family stress and conflict, and chronic health problems--leaving parents constantly seesawing between workplace misery and domestic crisis.
Organized labor, with its traditional insistence on quality-of-life issues, once helped millions of workers and their families to mitigate the power imbalance--but is no longer there for most of us:
Paid vacation time, paid family medical leave, access to daycare and flexibility for workers to control their schedules according to their needs--these are not simply labor costs, but critical provisions that people need to maintain a whole, dignified life--as caregivers, community members and citizens. Occupying all these roles together lets us live as full-time members of society, and a full-time job shouldn't rob us of that.
The NYT's look at the chaos caused by scheduling technology uncovers "a new collision that pits sophisticated workplace technology against some fundamental requirements of parenting, with particularly harsh consequences for poor single mothers:"
Scheduling is now a powerful tool to bolster profits, allowing businesses to cut labor costs with a few keystrokes. "It's like magic," said Charles DeWitt, vice president for business development at Kronos, which supplies the software for Starbucks and many other chains.
Yet those advances are injecting turbulence into parents' routines and personal relationships, undermining efforts to expand preschool access, driving some mothers out of the work force and redistributing some of the uncertainty of doing business from corporations to families, say parents, child care providers and policy experts.
As long as the costs of chaos are externalized, employers have little interest in reducing them:
Child care and policy experts worry that the entire apparatus for helping poor families is being strained by unpredictable work schedules, preventing parents from committing to regular drop-off times or answering standard questions on subsidy forms and applications for aid: "How many hours do you work?" and "What do you earn?" [...]
But flexibility -- an alluring word for white-collar workers, who may desire, say, working from home one day a week -- can have a darker meaning for many low-income workers as a euphemism for unstable hours or paychecks.
In addition to the stress of unpredictability, the age of loneliness is killing us:
We are shaped, to a greater extent than almost any other species, by contact with others. The age we are entering, in which we exist apart, is unlike any that has gone before. [...] Social isolation is as potent a cause of early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day; loneliness, research suggests, is twice as deadly as obesity. Dementia, high blood pressure, alcoholism and accidents - all these, like depression, paranoia, anxiety and suicide, become more prevalent when connections are cut. We cannot cope alone.
The media with which so many of us try to assuage our loneliness "speeds up the hedonic treadmill, forcing us to strive even harder to sustain the same level of satisfaction," and this can lead to a "generalised obsession with fame and wealth" with its own set of problems:
For this, we have ripped the natural world apart, degraded our conditions of life, surrendered our freedoms and prospects of contentment to a compulsive, atomising, joyless hedonism, in which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. For this, we have destroyed the essence of humanity: our connectedness.