Jewish World Review Nov. 12, 1999 /3 Kislev, 5760
Is this progress? We
have made the weekend
AMERICA ONLINE was running some promotion or
other on its welcome-to-the-site screen the other
day, and one of the lures was the chance to own an
"AOL weekender bag."
It seemed to be a gym bag -- one of those
lightweight pieces of luggage in which you throw a
few things before you leave the house. But the twin
phrases -- America Online and "weekender" -- were
sort of funny, because if AOL and what it stands for
have helped to rob the world of anything, it's the
concept of weekends.
Weekends, as they've always existed, have meant a
two-day break -- a time to step away from the
hurried pace of the workweek, to take a deep
breath, to disconnect. Weekends have been
(correctly) considered not a luxury, but a necessity
-- without the weekly opportunity to step away from
the tension and demands of Monday-through-Friday,
the world would go insane.
What's that you say? That the world has gone
Precisely the point. And part of the reason is that
weekends no longer exist.
Saturdays and Sundays remain on the calendar. But
the societal definition of the weekend as the time
when you're permitted to walk away from the
Monday-through-Friday screw-tightening -- that's
long gone. And AOL -- not the company itself, but
the computer-wired world it has become the symbol
of -- is largely responsible.
Because there is no walking away -- no locking the
office door and forgetting about your obligations until
Monday morning. The world and its worries follow
you home -- and not only do you not object, you say
thank you. You are for some reason grateful that
technology has enabled you to leave your workplace
on Friday and step freely into . . .
Your workplace. Or a reasonable facsimile thereof.
It is one more instance of the new Age of Drudgery
we have been discussing in this space. The
computer age beckoned like a carnival midway
come-on: Check your stocks at home! Catch up on
the latest news! Don't miss a message!
Communicate with colleagues even when you're not
in the office!
It sounded like a treat -- sort of the grown-up
version of home-schooling. But it became a harness
-- one that we willingly slipped into, as if this ride
was really going to be a barrel of fun.
The first hints of this could be seen in the news
stories from a decade ago, about financial-market
traders who were getting no sleep because they
were waking up in the middle of the night to do
business via their home computers with exchanges
in Asia and Europe. The so-called "global
opportunities" the technology allegedly offered to
these traders was having a rather serious side
effect: In order to keep ahead, they were having to
But they weren't us; we could look at those guys
and think that their problems were specific to their
high-finance occupations. Yet they were only the
first wave, and as the world grew ever more
connected, and we began to compulsively check our
electronic mail, to obsessively switch our home
computers on (just one more time tonight, we
promised ourselves) to see what we might be
missing. . . .
Well, we became full-timers. Full-time citizens of a
new world in which doing nothing is the greatest sin.
The same hidden fear that seemed to be driving
those all-night stock traders -- If you let yourself
relax and switch yourself off, someone may be
gaining on you! -- became the governing theme of
daily life itself. You're allowed to disconnect, every
cultural message seemed to be telling you -- but if
you do, you'll fall behind those who have chosen not
Thus, the new weekends -- those two days between
Friday and Monday during which, or so the
implication has it, only the slothful kiss the
workweek goodbye. The weekends have become
the bonus rounds, the extra innings -- the opportunity
to get one more leg up on those who are foolish
enough to smile and forget and have a lazy good
time. Every signal we receive tells us that if we
believe in the Saturday Evening Post weekends of
yesterday -- weekends as the pleasingly languorous
reward for the toil of the five days that preceded --
then we are not only throwbacks, but suckers.
The America Online weekender bag? What do you
think people are going to use it for -- as a place to
throw some clothes to take on a two-day drive to
watch the leaves turn colors, or as a carrying case
to take computer disks home from work Friday night
to get a jump on
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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