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You just checked your calendar, and wow. You might be able to sit down and watch TV tonight.
For today's workers, work is life. How did we get here? 012809 AE 2 For the CCW You just checked your calendar, and wow. You might be able to sit down and watch TV tonight.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Story last updated at 1/28/2009 - 11:06 am

For today's workers, work is life. How did we get here?
"Elsewhere U.S.A." by Dalton Conley. Pantheon, 2008. $24, 240 pp.

You just checked your calendar, and wow. You might be able to sit down and watch TV tonight.

You've got a conference call before dinner and a neighborhood meeting afterward. Your Blackberry is pinging, so you know there are emails to answer. And since your spouse is gone on a business trip, getting the kids' schedules straight is solely your responsibility this week.

Maybe you'll get to the TV.

Maybe around 11 o'clock, but for just a minute.

Funny, but you don't remember your parents living like this.

That's because they didn't. So why do you? Find out by reading the new book "Elsewhere U.S.A." by Dalton Conley.

While you'd never begrudge your parents their retirement, just knowing that Dad is on the links every day makes you a little jealous. When will it be your turn? In this nasty economy, will you ever be able to quit work to enjoy life?

Professor and sociologist Conley says that, for today's workers, work is life. Because of the "information age," computers, Blackberrys, and instant communication, and because we've come to feel that we should always be doing something highly productive, we can't slow down. We've become a society that thinks we should be Elsewhere at all times.

Amazingly, the more we're paid, the more we work.

Part of the problem, of course, is that we're always striving for "stuff." Between 1991 and 2004, for instance, our consumption of clothing rose significantly. Houses are larger than they were fifty years ago. We eagerly buy positional goods, which are objects of limited availability, thus positioning us to a higher status upon ownership. We can purchase the labor of another person in the form of housecleaning, massage, gardening, and - by extension - through our tips at a restaurant.

We have, in short, become a nation of "intraviduals" - we have multiple selves competing for what little time and energy we have. We claim weak social contacts just for the sake of having them. We're bombarded with ads that are so ubiquitous, we barely even notice them. Worse, our children are being taught early to crave the stress we adults wish to eliminate.

So what can be done? Conley admits he's not sure. We can try to take a step backward and wean ourselves from over-scheduling, Blackberrys and e-mail, but the bottom line is that the proverbial workhorse is already out of the barn.

If you're looking for a business book that you can breeze through in a day or so, don't look here. "Elsewhere, U.S.A." is one of those slim books that packs inside its covers a lot to digest. Through stories, history, and an examination of sociological factors, author Dalton Conley lays to rest many modern societal myths. He shows why our economy is the way it is and how the have-nots in America might have it better.

If you've got the time to devote to reading and pondering, pick up "Elsewhere U.S.A." It will show you where you are, how you got here, and whether or not it was worth it.

Terri Schlichenmeyer's book reviews are published in more than 200 newspapers and magazines throughout the U.S. and Canada. She may be reached at bookwormsez@yahoo.com


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