14 February 2007

What point progress?

We've been suckered. Two developments over the past twenty years promised workers a better life: the technological miracle of computers and world trade. But have they delivered?

A recent study by Statistics Canada suggests not. It indicates, for example, that Canadians are working harder, or at least longer, than they were two decades ago. In 1986, they worked an average of 8.4 hours a day, in 2005 an average of 8.9 hours. The number of workers who worked longer also grew. In 1986, 17 per cent of workers spent 10 hours or more at work, in 2005, 25 per cent did. The study found the increase in hours worked is the major reason people spend less time with their families today than they did 20 years ago. And they spend less than half as much time with their friends.

It is possible of course that people would rather be at work than with their families and friends, or contributing to community life, or just playing, but rising stress levels suggest otherwise. We can afford to buy more stuff, of course, but once you've got adequate stuff, even more adds little to the quality of life.

Computers, which like all technology, ought to make work easier and more pleasant may have actually made it more demanding. Answering emails alone has become a major and relentless component of work. World trade has made work life more competitive and thus more demanding and more stressful. We have enslaved ourselves to the mindless mantra "We must compete in the global marketplace."

All this leads to an obvious question: What is the point of technological and economic progress that leads to a declining quality of life? Or perhaps a more important question: Who's making the decisions?

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