Thursday, February 12, 2009

What Ever Happened to the Four-Day Work Week?

Back in the 1980’s when Personal Computers were just starting to make their way into people’s homes, technology fanatics were claiming we were at the forefront of a new revolution – the computer age had begun.

The microchip is one of humankind’s greatest accomplishments. These little pieces of sand, copper and other metals are the backbone to everything from traffic lights to toasters. We’ve seen amazing advances in communications – remember when the quickest way to get a document across the globe was by letter mail?

These days, email and online instant messaging, rule, making global communications immediate and interactive. But one of the biggest claims made back in the 1980’s was that technology would not only assist us in doing our work, but make it possible to do the work so efficiently, we’d have shorter work weeks, use less paper, and have a healthier society overall because of less stress.

I don’t know about you, but the work week has remained – if not increased – for most of us since the 1980’s. Back in the ‘80s, I remember reading how we’d move to a four-day work week and eventually be able to go down to a three-day work week, as computers would be able to handle more of the tasks that we typically do.

Where’s my four-day work week? And working from home doesn’t count. Working – no matter where it is – is still working.

As computers advanced, we’d have less of a need to carry around big piles of paper, so claimed the technological savvy forecasters in the 1980’s.

If anything, paper use has consistently increased since the advent of computers. Printers themselves are almost a disposable commodity, as sometimes it is cheaper to purchase a new printer, than replace the ink in the thing.

We print more, because we spend so much time in front of a screen, our eyes can play tricks on us if we don’t double-check things in print.

I know I feel better printing something out, and doing a final read-through the hard copy, even after all the online edits on the computer.

Technology has come a long way from the clunky typewriters we used to use. Remember having to backspace letter-by-letter, then having to use corrector fluid to cover up the typo?

I still remember learning to type on a typewriter – what a painful experience, as my fingers would occasionally miss the keys, and get stuck in tight spaces between them. And remember getting all covered in dark, sticky black ink, as you changed the typewriter’s ribbon?

Computers haven’t decreased stress, they’ve just compounded it. We no longer have to change messy typewriter ribbons, but how many times have you cursed at the photocopier for chewing up your report just before going into an important meeting? How many emails have flooded your inbox while you were busy trying to make a deadline? And, we’ve all experienced the infamous Microsoft Windows “blue screen of death” at some untimely point in our computing lives, indicating even our computers aren’t perfect – they crash just like we do.

Only after a good eight-hour crash in my nice warm bed, I almost always recover – can’t always say the same for the computer.

Less stress because of computers? I don’t think so!

I’m glad the days of clunky typewriters are long past us, but I still wonder – where did my four-day work week go?

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