Jewish World Review July 6, 2000 / 3 Tamuz, 5760
If this is victory, what
would defeat feel like?
SAN DIEGO I think it may have been when I saw
three men in a row in three different cars, each man
with a worried, tense expression on his face, each
man talking into those little wires that drop down in
front of the user's mouth and are attached to
Or maybe it was when I saw a father out with his
family at a shopping mall, and suddenly his
electronic pager went off, and he checked it and
then excused himself to go call his office....
Or it may have been when, at the San Diego
airport, I saw a woman cursing under her breath as
she tried and failed to make her computer modem
connect with a pay telephone so that she could
retrieve her e-mail before she got onto her flight....
It was while making these observations that it
occurred to me:
Isn't this what America was supposed to be like if
the Russians had won?
That was the pervasive fear during the Cold War
years: that the Russians (it was always the Russians;
during the Cold War era of the 1950s and 1960s,
the enemy that was waiting to destroy our way of
life was invariably the Russians) would defeat us,
and the first thing they would do would be to make
us work all the time.
See, the Russians were assumed to be too
diabolically clever to decimate our land and
buildings. What good would that do them? We in
the United States were so far ahead of the Russians
in every way that mattered-- our cars, our offices,
our stores, our kitchens-- that the Russians would
have been crazy to simply blow us to smithereens.
No, what they would do, after their armies
defeated us-- or so we were told by grim
commentators-- would be to put us to work for
them. Full-time, double-time, triple-time ... we'd be
turned into working fools by our Russian masters.
We would become one coast-to-coast slave camp.
That was the frightening thing, because the U.S., at
that point in the nation's social history, valued
nothing more than the newly discovered concept of
"leisure time." In the years after World War II was
won, "leisure time" seemed to be the most
wonderful fruit of the victory. Barbecues, family
trips, cocktail parties by the swimming pool--
leisure time was the new American ideal. We could
spend our time doing ... nothing! That's how great
this country was, that's how complete the victory
over Germany and Japan was ... we had won the
right to do nothing at all, whenever we chose to do
nothing-- we had earned our leisure.
And that is why the Cold War threat of the
Russians was so chilling. If they attacked us and
won, our leisure would be taken away from us--
our just-found way of happy free times ("the Good
Life," it was called in magazine stories) would be
over. We'd be working in the morning, working in
the afternoon, working at night, working when we
should be sleeping ... that's all we would ever do.
Work, work, work. Because the Russians would
Jump forward now, to the summer of 2000.
The Russians didn't defeat us-- the Cold War never
We are-- at least as of this morning-- a nation at
The economy is good; the weather is lovely.
And what are we doing?
Work, work, work.
We have come up with the technology to allow us
to be connected to our jobs 24 hours a day-- and
we have chosen to accept the unspoken commands
of that technology. No conquering army has issued
us the commands-- it has been entirely voluntary.
The concept of the eight-hour workday is ancient
history. The idea of going home from the office,
leaving the business world behind, and unwinding
with the family as the sun goes down and the placid
evening begins? Something out of a museum.
Now the workday is 24 hours long. Give out the
cell phone number, check the voice mail, log on to
the computer at home and hook up through
telephone lines to the office e-mail system. On the
airplane, use the in-flight telephone to pick up the
messages that have been electronically stored on
the phone system at work; on vacation, have the
mail from the office overnighted to where you and
your family are staying so you don't get behind. If
you're out to dinner have the paperwork faxed to
the restaurant so that you can go over it before
bed; if you're driving home from work make those
business calls while you're steering through traffic.
It's efficient; it's exhausting; it's constant.
The Russians didn't do it to us-- no enemy did this.
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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