Work and Life: Balance or Assimilation?

In response to my last post’s mention of Google’s policy of allowing its workers some free time to pursue their own projects, asks, “Doesn’t Google also basically have people living there? I mean the idea is to make it a fun environment, and it looks like one, but doesn’t it end up with people basically having no life outside of work (kinda like being an academic)?”

As far as I know, that’s true.  Google takes the infamous Silicon Valley “go-to guy” culture to an extreme.  Rather than relying on hierarchy or financial incentives, Google and many other software companies rely on the Valley’s subculture of competitive insanity to keep workers at their keyboards into the wee hours.  Google isn’t really unique in that regard; what makes them unique is the degree to which the company lends structural support to this madness.  My major professor’s son works for a software company; when they’re pulling an all-nighter, they get cots and pizza.  Google?  The Wikipedia description of the Googleplex doesn’t really do it justice.  Look at this, or this.  Yeah, tenure sounds nice and all, but can I get a massage after class?

Google employees basically don’t have to leave work.  Ever.  Which casts

It’s a hard question for me.  I’ve spent much of the last decade trying to figure out two things: how to avoid work, and how to get paid to do work that I like.  If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to find the right balance as an academic.  But Marx’s old concern for the paid laborer underlies a lot of my concern for people (in industrialized countries, at least): work is “that which is most our own, yet most taken away”.  I want people to have jobs that they enjoy, that give them a sense of fulfillment, of humanity.  What if that’s what Google does?  I think it sounds a bit sick, myself, and yet any objective observer would take one look at the shit I’m putting myself through in grad school (for much, much less) and think that I’m the sick one.

Just about every non-alienating job that I’ve ever read about – be it Google, farming, or working for a democratic company – also seemed to extend well beyond the nine-to-five.  Real, non-alienating work gets as deeply integrated into your life as family.  We just have a hard time with that, I think, because so much of the US’s work culture is based on the assumption that the Man is trying to wring you dry.  When you yourself are the man… well, we just don’t have the beliefs, values and norms to comprehend that.  I wonder what it’s like in Europe, where there are much more substantial barriers between work and life – does that help in the long run, or does it lock the Europeans in to an unnatural work-life separation?

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2 responses to “Work and Life: Balance or Assimilation?

  1. pitse1eh

    And in the sense of possibly contributing–Turner’s role-person merger stuff may help you as you develop your theory.

    I’m really intrigued by the “unnatural work-life separation” you commented on in the end. Perhaps my ideal of having a home life and a work life is a false ideal–much like many of our ideals are (we have them, we don’t meet them, and are happier because we don’t meet them but experience dissonance because we feel that we should). An example? Well, Blue has all these ideas of what “marriage” should be. Our marriage is none of these things because it’s a marriage between him and me and not ideal man 1 and ideal woman 2. For example, he feels dissonance because I make, and probably always will make, more than he does. But, I’m happy working outside of the home (usually) and he would be happier working at home taking care of the theoretical land and children. But, despite the fact he recognizes this, it doesn’t match up to the ideology of the man as provider–so causes him issues.

    I wonder if happiness in work doesn’t have much to do with the separation of work from home, but the match between the amount of separation that exists and the ideology about this balance that exists within the culture you are in? Kind of a control mechanism with ideologies serving as the gauge?

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