There are very few magazines left for people who have the patience to read essays of 3,000 words or longer. But I don't think it's because people are illiterate, or less intelligent, or have attention spans that are too short, or aren't willing to expend the effort required by attentiveness.
I think it's just because people don't have time.
I've noticed over the years that TOP's readership skews older. Or at least its Commentariat does. But I don't think that's because I talk about history and traditions. I don't believe it's because I remember Hot Wheels and Hula Hoops and so do they. My sample size makes my data anecdotal, but I think it's because we tend to "get into it" here—with longer discussions and multiple comments and links—and a lot of younger people (~30–50 maybe? 25–45?) just plain don't have the time to follow along very often.
The eight-hour day had its origins in the 19th century, along with the child labor laws and other labor movements. The idea was that, if people were forced to work in coal mines or cotton mills or farm fields for 10 to 16 hours a day, six days a week, their quality of life was being imposed upon too drastically. The history of the eight-hour day is long and lively, with inconsistent and incremental gains, much opposition, and a great deal of the kind of political posturing and "proclamations" you might expect—along with florid rhetoric: one labor union (at least) used the term "capitalist slavery." The first general strike in the United States, in 1835, was by Irish coal-heavers. Their demand? They only wanted to work 12 hours a day, with two hours for meals, six days a week.
The driving impulse was mainly humanitarian.
These days, unions are in steep decline (most of our labor has moved offshore), and the labor movement is a quaint artifact of history. We have a sleepy little holiday to commemorate it. The eight-hour day is a landmark from way back, a speck on the horizon in our collective rear-view mirror.
Except it isn't.The eight-hour day itself is what's becoming a thing of the past.
It's just that now, it's white collar workers and professionals whose "labor" (time) is being exploited!
With good jobs scarce and corporatism rampant, the incendiary notion of "capitalist slavery" might more rationally apply to people such as associates at legal firms, medical interns, and mid-level managers of many descriptions. And yes, even government workers. My father was a Director of NASA years ago, and told a story of a time when Jimmy Carter was late for a meeting with a room full of high-level officials. As all those very busy people sat there hour after hour wasting their time, Carter's functionary offered the excuse that the President was very busy because he "worked 70 hours a week." That excuse backfired—my father said he doubted there was a single individual in the room who worked as little as 70 hours a week. Medical interns are overworked so excessively that recent reforms have limited the hours they're allowed to work to 80. (Eight-zero.) "I didn't have time to 'sh*t shower and shine' back in the day," my brother Charlie, a pediatrician and internist, said to me. I've heard tales of Silicon Valley startups offering their workers sleeping accommodations for when they just don't have time to go home and come back.
Add kids into the mix and you start to get an idea what younger adults are dealing with. And not only that, but "connectedness" is having the unwanted effect of letting workplace obligations sneak into formerly personal times and places.
Utopian once more
"Eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, eight hours for rest." Sounds nice to some of you younger people with "good" corporate jobs, doesn't it? The phrase was the utopian goal of the Scottish socialist Robert Owen in 1817. It was more than 100 years before it would become a legislated reality in many nations. Now, it's something older people have earned, but few younger people with "good" jobs get.
If you've read this post this far, you've already read 715 words. That's already just too much for people whose time is severely limited...people with corporate jobs, kids, and long commutes, and who will have to check company email before they go to bed.
So yeah, a lot of photo enthusiasts are older. And a lot of TOP readers are older (or retired even though they're not older, or they're professional photographers, or photo teachers, or they work at the higher—in some cases the highest—levels of their companies). It's simple: they're the ones who have time to take pictures and talk about it.
I could go on, but I think I'll take it easy on you. You probably have other things to get to.
(Thanks to Charlie)
"Open Mike" is the editorial page of TOP. It appears only, but not always, on Sundays.
Original contents copyright 2016 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Craig Munro: "You're absolutely right Mike. As a 40-something with a family and 10–12 hour days, it's hard enough to prioritise 10 minutes to read an article on TOP, never mind find the time to reflect on it for long enough to put together a coherent comment. And then after all that somehow I need to squeeze in some photography time. It's enough to make a person look forward to retirement!"
Bruce McL (partial comment): "My neighbor worked on the original Toy Story movie. For months I would go to bed with the sound of her car driving into the apartment parking lot, and wake up to the sound of her driving back to work. After the movie was released, she had time to talk about how intense it got there. They provided laundry service on Saturdays—she brought her dirty clothes to work and they would be cleaned while she kept working.
"At least she has something to show for all of that work."
[For the entire texts of featured "partial" comments, and for all the rest of the comments, please click on "Comments" below. —Ed.]
A. Dias: "Long hours in Silicon Valley companies is the norm and has been so for many decades. People do it because they have the motivation to do so. Nothing wrong with that. Opportunity and choice is where it's at, not some government mandated regulation which leads to common-denominator mediocrity."
Rick Wilcox: "Thanks be that I'm retired and have all the time to do whatever I want. Even this. To paraphrase the quote of an old quote, I feel like the little old man sitting in his rocker: 'When I feel a worry comin' on, I just go to sleep for awhile.'"
Bob Smith: "The last time I can remember an eight-hour workday is way back in 1985. After that I became self employed. Ten/twelve/fourteen hour days five to seven days a week when work was to be had. Fortunately my business is commercial door, frame and hardware installations. So even in skinny economic times there has always been some work to do. Everybody needs a working door right?
"There would be times when work slowed due to the season, weather, etc., and I had time off but that would be a little nerve-wracking since if I'm not working I'm not earning.
"For a 4.5-year period I took a job with one of the companies I subcontract for, running the installation and service departments for their seven branches in the D.C., Maryland, Virginia area. Six-figure salary, benefits, whoopee! My wife was looking forward to me having a regular paycheck and set hours. LAUGH OUT LOUD. The most miserable time of my life. Sixty-hour work weeks, phone and email going off until I went to bed, complaints and problems to deal with from both ends.
"When they came to me and said they had to downsize due to blah blah blah I almost kissed them. It's taken two years but I've rebuilt my business. Don't have any guarantees about where my next check is coming from except the quality of my work, and I'm happy as can be. I can take time off when I'm not scheduled with work and sometimes I can even plan some time off.
"Eight-hour work day? Unimaginable."
Peter Allen: "Where does 37 put me in your reader demographics? I try very hard not to work too much. Mostly successful; means I can spend time with family and sleep. Still doesn't make as much time as I'd like for photographs though...."
Josh Hawkins: "Part of it is the workday. It's nonstop. Even when you're not working there are emails, texts and the dreaded phone calls.
"Part is attention span, at least for me. I'm used to reading and reading a lot. The Internet has been great for the amount of reading I do if not the quality, but I read for, at most, ten minutes and move on to the next item.
"Years ago I worked for a parenting magazine. We had a managing editor come in and the first thing she did was cut the word counts on all articles. This was before the Internet. I'm not old, really, but she wanted the articles to be the length a parent could consume before having to get back to their duties. In hindsight that change was really smart. (Sorry if I didn't address the issues very well. I skimmed the last two-thirds of your article.)"
Hudson: "Mr. Ford liked eight-hour days because he could run three shifts a day. With a ten-hour day he could only run two shifts a day."
Steve Biro: "I've spent the past 43 years as a journalist, mostly in television and radio. I don't think I've ever worked less than 50 hours a week during that time. Perhaps when I was in college I worked 40 hours a week at a local commercial radio station while attending classes full time. Even when I finally made it to a unionized gig in network television, it was still close to a 12-hour work day and often 18 hours during big news events.
"Once, during hurricane coverage in the field, I worked 72 hours straight without sleep. But at least I was paid overtime as a producer-writer-editor (notice I was still doing the work of three, however).
"The eight-hour workday wasn't just a humanitarian goal. Many corporate executives finally realized they were burning out their workforce faster than they could replace them. And yet there was still heavy resistance to a shortened workday. During the industrial revolution up until about the First World War, many American laborers were forced into retirement at about age 45. Most didn't have pensions but were simply worn out and could no longer work. The nation's brain trust finally realized eight hours was the sweet spot at which companies could maximize productivity and long-term worker usefulness. But most of those lessons have already been forgotten."
Scott Johnston: "See Overwhelmed, by Schulte, for a comprehensive and entertaining exploration of this problem and various solutions."
Leroy: "Organized a union. Fought. Certified. Communication Workers of America. ...And prevailed. Eight-hour days. Overtime after that. Holidays time and a half. Vacation. Sick time. Call back pay. Retirement. Health insurance. Disability. Payroll deduction. Seniority. Priority. ...Union yes!"
Peter: "A couple of years before I retired (12 years ago), companies were handing out cell phones and Blackberries to executives so that they could get at you 24/7. If you had a workaholic boss it was like being married to him or her. Not to mention the constant e-mail bombardment. Besides working x number of hours a week, being on call like doctors used to be, add exhausting air travel to the mix. I hardly took a picture from 1985 through 2003. Had to retire to get back to it."
David Elesh: "I retire at the end of June after 49 years as a professor and having worked 50–60 hours a week—as do my colleagues—since I started. Both my son and future daughter-in-law work 60–70 hours a week in completely different industries."
Trecento: "Mike, I think I've read every article you've posted in the last five years, and almost every comment. I'm a fast reader by nature, and it is my primary recreation. Your writing is good, and is worth the time I've spent reading. (Though, I will admit the cost to me is less than the cost to others.) So much of what is out there is not meant to be read deeply, or is redundant summaries, or is trolling for clicks and arguing, or is erroneous, or is vague, or merely lacks insight. I know, because I used to read a sampling of all of it, much the same way, I suspect, you used to sample the firehose of online photography.
"Your writing stands out, among a handful of other authors with a distinct voice.
"Today, I have less time, and more (and better!) goals than I used to. I cope by focusing on those authors, and watching for posts on an RSS feed reader on my iPad. (The app is called 'Unread,' and I use the RSS service called Newsblur.) I recommend this approach to anyone interested in managing their reading time. I only have sixteen subscriptions, which breaks down into thirteen people, across six categories. The only feed that regularly produces links instead of long form posts is John Gruber's Daring Fireball, but his one sentence comments on those links is worth it.
"I saw that you talked about how much time you spend writing—that you might be able to distill it down to three to six a day. I agree, that seems to be about my limit for continuous creative production. After that, it doesn't matter if I log more hours, I'm not going to achive more without a complete reset—which almost always means a walk, a decent meal, and sufficient REM sleep. I would be interested to hear how long you can work at one go, creatively.
"I fear that my white collar peers are dooming themselves to 10–14 hour days by letting their time be shredded to confetti by constant interruptions, task switching, and the miasma of 'continuous partial attention' that comes with email interruptions, messaging, facebook feeds, and the like. There is only so much work you can get out of a person in a day, and so much attention to bo around, no matter how willing they are to burn the candle at both ends, up the middle, and down the other side. Joel Sapolsky wrote an excellent essay on this called 'Human Task Switches Considered Harmful' some fifteen years ago. I recommend it."