If technology is supposed to make our lives easier why are people increasingly having to work longer hours--especially in America?

In answer to Quora question "If technology is supposed to make our lives easier why are people increasingly having to work longer hours--especially in America?"

Thanks for the A2A. I think there are three main factors in play:

1) On a macro level capitalism is growth-dependent. When growth stalls then the economy stalls. Add to this an ever-increasing scarcity of both the factors of production and what is being produced, and a pressure cooker is created for both consumers and producers. (Perverse incentives are in play as well - sometimes scarcity is deliberately engineered). In any case, when we inject market-incentivized competition into this growth-scarcity dynamic, then amplify it with government constraints and reallocations, then maintaining or increasing the standard of living inevitably requires higher productivity within downward wage pressures and downward price pressures. In this environment, we may have simply exceeded the capacity of technology to offset the spiral, and must work much harder to overcome diminishing returns.

2) As someone who was an IT consultant for fifteen years and still follows IT trends and developments, I would say that technology makes certain things easier while introducing a lot more complexity and expectation of effort in other areas. For example, email provides efficiency of communication, but what if you have 100+ work emails to parse every day? Answering all those emails may feel like productivity, but it often doesn't result in actual productivity. There are parallels throughout almost all technology implementations - what at first seems to provide increased capacity also incurs additional costs. Does this result in a complete wash? Sometimes, but more often the gains just aren't as great as expected, and a decent ROI demands additional "self-justifying" effort (or, ironically, additional investment).

3) The American work ethic is pretty distorted. Although attempts have been made to reward productivity and accomplishment above "being busy," the reality is that in most work environments either "being busy" or "appearing to be busy" are much more highly esteemed than actual productivity. Combined with the first two factors, this means people are working harder and harder to accomplish less, produce less, earn less and ultimately enjoy life less.

My 2 cents.


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