Leisure — The First 40,000 Years

leisureForget the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, The Age of Enlightenment, The Space Age and even The Post-Industrial Age: all human history can be divided into two distinct periods — The Age of Work and the Age of Leisure.  Our great-great-great-grandparents lived in the Age of Work; we live in The Age of Leisure.  And that, in a nutshell, is why Western Society is speeding towards the Abyss of Hell like a runaway stagecoach full of passengers shouting “WTF happened?”

Let me explain.

Give or take a day or two, human history is really only about 40,000 years long.  (Before that, it’s kinda iffy — unless you’re specifically trained to spot the difference between a stone used as an axe and an axe made out of a stone.  Even mega-smart anthropologists argue about that one.)  Anyway, for the first 39,750 years of understandable history humans worked … dawn to dusk, every day … like … endlessly.  That’s what they did and they did it because there was only one alternative.  Oops, sorry: you’re dead.  They had a purpose — work your ass off and improve your lot in life, or face the alternative.  Things was simple in those days.

Then, about 250 years ago, a guy by the name of James Watt showed up.  History tells us that Watt invented the steam engine.  (He didn’t actually, but that’s a different tale.)  What history doesn’t tell us is that Watt, by setting off the Industrial Revolution, inadvertently created leisure.

There are all kinds of myths about the brutality of the Industrial Revolution, but the reality is machines started doing our work for us.  People, therefore, didn’t have to spend all their waking hours just trying to survive anymore.  They started doing other things — leisure activities.  (It’s no coincidence that book, magazine and newspaper sales went through the stratosphere in the 19th century.)  Slowly at first, but steadily, leisure (an unknown term before 1836) became an essential component of our modern world.  But now — in the 21st century — it has turned into a monster.

We spend millions on young people who kick, hit and throw a variety of balls around — and billions more to watch them do it.  We spend millions on people who sing to us, tells us stories or tell us what to wear.  We spend so much money on the film industry and spend so much time watching television that even Stephen Hawking can’t imagine the numbers.  We have created celebrities who literally have no redeeming qualities; they just exist, and we worship them.  We spend more time and energy playing video games than we do deciding who will govern us.  My God!  Has our world gone crazy?

For the vast majority of human history, leisure was an occasional activity that took us away from the soul-eating brutality of endless toil.  However, these days, leisure has become the reason we exist, and we’re so addicted to relentless entertainment we can’t see beyond binge-watching Full House reruns.

See you at the abyss!

Relationships are Difficult

tv ad4The other day I had another argument with my television set.  We are no longer speaking, it and I.  I think it’s better if we stay away from each other for a while rather than say or do things we might regret later.  I’m not one to badmouth things behind their backs; if I have anything to say, I’ll say it right to the screen.  However, my TV is as petulant as a Somali warlord and about half as predictable.  Still, every grey cloud has a silver lining, and while my TV and I have been giving each other the cold shoulder I’ve had time to reevaluate our relationship.

I must admit my TV is not totally to blame for our breakup.  It’s apparent we’ve grown apart in recent years.  Sadly, even though it has tried to keep the magic alive, introducing new channels and keeping the picture quality bright and beautiful, I find myself longing for the good old days when it was just the two of us.  We only had basic cable then and a mechanical videotape machine (that flashed 12:00, 12:00, 12:00) but we were young and reckless and it didn’t matter.  These days my TV sets the time by itself – from a satellite.  It doesn’t need me or the Owner’s Manual.  In fact, there is no Owner’s Manual, anymore; everything comes preset.  I remember it, though: the childlike wonder of exploring new features, experimenting with the settings, long afternoons slowly coaxing the perfect contrast and brightness levels; each subtle change responding to my touch.  Once, I switched the default language to Spanish as a prank; in better times, we still laugh about that one.  Then there were those long winter nights when I’d stop off at Blockbuster or Videomatica.  We’d order pizza and spend the evening in the darkness, laughing with Tom Hanks or the Blues Brothers.  One weekend, we just stayed home and watched the entire Star Wars trilogy – twice!  Those were good times, back in the day.

In all honesty, I haven’t been totally faithful to my TV.  I’ve watched movies on my computer and played games on my telephone.  But they were sordid affairs on darkened, domestic flight airlines and city buses.  They didn’t mean anything to me.  I used earphones and never got the full experience.  In fact, they only made me appreciate my 40 inch flat screen — with stereo theatre sound-around — all the more.

I suppose it was just the day-to-day routine that drove me to use other devices.  I can have whatever I want, whenever I want it, but there’s a sameness about it – no spontaneity, no discovery, no trembling anticipation.  Despite all the channels, the HD picture, the iTunes Video on Demand, it always comes back to the same old/same old: know-it-all detective shows and dysfunctional family drama.

In fact, that was what the argument was about in the first place.  I wanted to watch something different for once, but it was already recording two “We’re all Doomed” documentaries and refused to change without killing one of them.  Then I accidently killed them both and recorded a stupid insult sitcom with Charlie Sheen.  So you see, it wasn’t actually her fault, at all.  In fact, she was just doing what she thought I wanted.  At the end of the day, that’s the real problem.  I haven’t kept up with all the changes in her life.  I really don’t know what half her remote buttons do anymore, and I haven’t given her the quality time it takes to find out.  It’s no wonder she thinks I take her for granted.  Yet, there she is, all by herself in the corner, quietly recording Season Three of Downton Abbey just so I don’t miss an episode.  I guess it wouldn’t kill me to go over and see if she wants to take a look at HBO and see if there’s something on.  Besides, I’m sure she wouldn’t want me to miss the NFL playoffs this weekend.

But I don’t think it’s a good time to say anything about the “Words with Friends” app I’ve got on my telephone.