|Anxiety and Stress
"Distress of nations, with perplexity" (Luk. 21:25)
|END Home||Site Top||On This Page||Related Articles|
out the related
- Technology can't bring
On paper, the Japanese worker looking for some time off doesn't have it so bad. Japan has more national holidays than the U.S. or Germany, and the average employee can count nearly 18 days of paid vacation.
Actually taking those days, however, is another matter altogether. Despite a high-profile effort by the government to get people to take more time off, the still shaky economy and deeply entrenched social pressures are keeping Japan's workaholic work force glued to the office.
"I can't take any New Year's holidays," said office worker Masuko Tanaka.
Though she won't be at her office on the first three days of the New Year, which are national holidays, her husband is a shopkeeper and she has to help out. And when she takes her real vacation, a week in February, she'll have to go without him. He'll be working.
According to the latest statistics released by the government, it is a lucky worker getting five straight days off around New Year's--Japan's most important holiday season. And of the average 17.8 days of paid vacation, most people actually take only about nine.
One of the main reasons is peer pressure. Instead of seeing vacation time as an entitlement, many Japanese feel embarrassed to claim vacation days that will have them off while their co-workers aren't. Workers are thus much more comfortable taking national holidays, when everyone else gets a rest as well.
Putting in long hours is something most workers have done all their lives. Japanese schools just recently began giving children every other Saturday off, and are hoping to make it every Saturday by 2002.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology is struggling with a rash of student suicides. The latest occurred when a 22-year-old senior jumped from a 14-story window to her death. Lucy Crespo DaSilva of Brazil was the fourth MIT student to commit suicide since 1998. Typically, colleges nationwide average about one suicide a year. "College is a very stressful experience for students," said Larry Benedict, MIT dean for student life, told the Boston Globe. "We try to talk about issues of depression and issues of suicide regularly."
We all know the catechism. America is cradled within the longest uninterrupted--uninterruptible!--economic boom in history. Stock prices mint fortunes at the speed of a mouse click. Billionaires live next door. Yak herders carry Palm Pilots. And so on, ad nauseam. Just how far, I wonder, can our pundits drift from an accurate picture of reality without melting from shame?
It is not that growth is not real. But as social analysis, to say only that is to build a stool missing two legs. Pay attention long enough to mainstream media and you can catch an occasional glimpse of the stool's first absent strut: the exponentially growing levels of economic inequality since the early 1970s. But you can look forever and not find a single mention of the second. It is America's new problem that has no name: our unhappiness epidemic. Social scientists have been confirming it again and again in recent studies. Two sociologists stumbled upon the fact that not only are people in their 20s more listless, cynical and morose than in past decades--so are people of all ages.
One economist demonstrated a steady decrease in the number of Americans who report themselves to be "very happy" since the end of World War II, inversely proportional to the nation's ever increasing gross national product.
Do you tap your fingers as you wait for the microwave to zap your instant coffee? Do you eat lunch on the go? Do you answer the phone while reading your e-mails, and answer your e-mails while watching television? Then according to James Gleick, the author of Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything, you are probably suffering from "Hurry Sickness," the disease which, he says, defines our decade.
"Our computers, our movies, our sex lives--they all run faster now than ever before," Gleick says. "And the more we fill our lives with time-saving devices and time-saving strategies, the more rushed we feel."
How can this be? How can we feel hassled in the kitchen when we have a dishwasher to take the strain? How can we feel impatient when we can e-mail information in less time than it takes to lick a stamp? It is these contradictions that Gleick, a science writer for The New York Times and author of the bestselling Chaos, set out to explore.
"I'm a multi-tasker. I'm the guy standing in front of the microwave wondering what I can get accomplished in 90 seconds," he says guiltily. "Have you noticed that television is becoming a multi-tasking activity, like radio? We are no longer satisfied just watching TV, we've got to be watching with a remote control in our hand. It's on but we're also at the computer." Which leads us to the next question that Gleick has been busily worrying over. Technology has speeded up our lives, but are we equipped to cope with the pace?
"One answer is no, obviously we are not equipped to deal with such an increase in pace," Gleick says. "There are all sorts of diseases we seem to have as a result of this rushing around. I talk about Hurry Sickness but you could say we are collectively manic."
He recounts an anecdote about George Washington who was said, in retirement on his plantation, to be so desperate for company that he would send slaves to wait by the roadside and hail passersby to invite them in for dinner. These days our complaint is the opposite, of course. We have too much contact and too much stuff. We pack our pockets with beepers and cell phones and Palm Pilots--the latest model can summon the Internet as you walk down the street--and complain of "information overload."
"We can barely understand," Gleick says, "that the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor ended an 11-day voyage by the unseen, unheard Japanese fleet through a data vacuum; or that 2,000 people died in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans a fortnight after a peace treaty was signed in London. We expect information to shine everywhere, soonest."
But those expectations have also left us feeling exhausted, harried and under pressure as the faxes and e-mails roll in, creating a bogus sense of urgency. The medical profession talks of "bleeper medicine," where some doctors say that they are seeing an addiction to paging and quick fixes.
Far from being liberated by time-saving devices, we become even more impatient--another symptom of Hurry Sickness. "I admit it feels slow to me now to print on a laser printer which does six pages a minute," he says, shaking his head. "Yet I used to feed the pages in by hand. It might have taken all day but it was a miracle that I could do it--I was saving weeks.
"This feeling of impatience we get, grabbing at one piece of information after another, well, we're doing this faster than we would have dreamt possible even ten years ago. But if we stopped to think about it, we would realize we feel irritable with how slow things are."
As a result, we have changed our expectations of what is possible, what is normal and what is fun. "Look at One-Minute Bedtime Stories," he adds sadly. "It's hard to imagine anyone boasting to friends, 'Hey, I've got this wonderful one-minute book for my kids!' Yet there is an entire series of these books and they sell. It's hard to think what the extra ten minutes saved by not reading a longer bedtime story could be used for. But people are confused about what they should be spending time on.
"Most of us like living in a buzz," he says. "We complain but we aren't shutting down our e-mail addresses. We like connectedness. We're not interested in an about-face towards simpler lives.
"Have you ever watched a TV commercial with cowboys? It's part of the American psyche that there is nothing finer than to be a cowboy alone on the range, sleeping under the stars. But look at the people who are actually doing that. They can't wait to get back to a city. Even though we all feel we don't have enough time for contemplation, for just being alone with our thoughts, when push comes to shove, we're really not that anxious to be alone with our thoughts."
The good news is that most people will be better off in the next millennium. The bad news is that we will all be more miserable, a new report says.
Rising prosperity will be accompanied by continued social upheaval: more broken marriages, worsening drug dependency, workplace stress, loneliness and a collapse in faith. The report from the Henley Center--commissioned by the Salvation Army and called The Paradox of Prosperity--found that increased wealth will come at a price. By 2010, overall living standards will rise by 35 percent but the professional classes in particular will feel the strain.
The report says: "They are under increasing pressure, working longer hours and suffering higher levels of stress. As this trend continues, alcohol and drug abuse could become worryingly prevalent. At the same time, people will feel the need to ensure private financial provision for their old age and will be less able to withdraw from the rat race."
Alex Hughes, Salvation Army Commissioner, said: "This report may alarm and shock people, but it paints a picture of a society which could be reality in a few years time. All sectors of society are at risk of suffering from the modern social conditions--loneliness, stress and a deteriorating quality of life."
The number of men under the age of 35 committing suicide in Britain has doubled in the last 20 years, according to a television documentary to be broadcast on Monday. One of the findings of the programme is that men are much less likely to share their worries and seek help. The programme includes the cases of several men who took their own lives before they were even 25. The majority of suicides are triggered by depression, but the programme reports that a quarter are caused by severe mental illness.
... continued on following page
|Articles on this Page
Japanese workers skip time off
America's unhappiness epidemic
The decade of rush
The future is richer but more miserable
Young suicides double in Britain
|Find all articles on topic | Search the site | Get new articles via email|
skip time off
The decade of rush
Young suicides double in Britain
Related END Articles
Protecting children from prayer
Site Copyright, The Family 1997-2001