The Speed of Life

Hamster on Spinning Wheel - This is lifeI know you must all get tired of these articles where I whine about my life. But I think this one is a bit different and more interesting. It occurred to me today that what I most hate about my life is the speed of it. What is the point of it all? I understand that everyone has to work. But we all run around doing mostly pointless things. We do bad work — quickly.

For a month now, I’ve been wanting to write about two translations of Don Quixote. The first is by the painter Charles Jarvis and the second is by the novelist Tobias Smollett. The latter is the better known of the two, and is still published. In fact, the Barnes & Noble Classics edition uses the Smollett translation. The problem is, it is almost certainly not a translation. He seems to have just taken Jarvis’ translation and rewritten it.

To write about that properly would take days — many days. There are certainly at least a few PhD dissertations in it. I’m sure I could get a very long article just comparing one chapter. And that would be a worthy use of my time, even though very few people would be interested in reading it. It’s not like the “Smollett ripped off Jarvis” fact hasn’t been well established. Indeed, in 1949, Samuel Putnam wrote, “The version published by T G Smollett in 1755 merits little consideration as it is merely a working over of Jarvis.” But there is much to be said for doing something worthy at a leisurely pace.

A Sudden Opportunity

The funny thing is that after thinking this all day, I got the opportunity last night when the power for the entire neighborhood died. At first, I was frantic. But once I found the candles, I realized it was quite a blessing. I got one of my Jarvis copies out and started to read, laying on my couch. It’s hard to read by candle light, but that made it even better. It forces you to read slower and you can savor every word. And just as I was really getting into it — Ta da! — the power came back on.

And the world went back to its normal frenetic pace. I had to finish an article for work that had to be done fast. (If I’m writing it, it’s because it has to be done right away; about the best turn-around time is three days for a freelancer for reason that really have nothing to do with them.) And there were several other things. Plus, there was Frankly Curious, but you know: nothing really good or anything. This, as a matter of fact.

Pointless Speed

It wouldn’t matter if we were at war. Or working at a hospital. In fact, I tell my writers that when they screw up, “We run a website, not an ER.” But that really is the problem with the modern world: we treat everything like it’s life or death. I have a friend who works for ComCast — or whatever they call themselves now. And he works enormous numbers of hours. And when there is a big launch, he works even more hours.

And why? Really! I want to know. It isn’t life or death. It isn’t even profit or loss. It’s more or less profit. We have the technology to allow everyone to live meaningful, fulfilling lives. But instead, we all run around like some kind of bizarre organic perpetual motion machine. It’s not a machine that does anything of much value. It’s more like a hamster on a spinning wheel.

We’re crazy. We are all crazy.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

8 thoughts on “The Speed of Life

  1. I wish you could trade places with me. I don’t have very much to do this week or next week-I am working but that is just for two days. Probably one reason why I have been sleeping as much as I have.

    • I don’t have to work. I’m still a freelancer. But the way it works is that I was brought into this by a rather close friend who I have never met. (That’s amazing.) And I’ve taken a huge amount of work off her. And so even though I do feel a decent amount of obligation to my actual boss, it is to my friend that I feel the greatest obligation. Although it doesn’t really matter. I know they could replace me. Everyone is replaceable.

      • I know you are a freelancer but you also are very devoted even if you can be replaced with a cyborg.

        • Well, maybe not that devoted. Although I killed myself today and saw I only logged just over 8 hours.

  2. It’s often a function, in this country, of a limited safety net. That means you can push people harder and they have few other options.

    I just tried a job that paid on commission. And after a week without eating, and averaging less sleep every night, I quit. The pressure was too much.

    Now, I understand completely why the owner uses a commission model. He’s trying to avoid toxic employees. People full of psychological damage who gossip about other workers, avoid doing anything they know others will have to do for them, and so on. As we all know, sometimes one toxic worker will destroy a whole workplace. Everyone hates them, they’re just clever enough to not get fired, and so good workers leave to get away.

    Commission solves the toxic worker problem somewhat, because if they won’t work, they’re not paid. But now you have another problem. Now workers are under pressure to work more quickly than they’d prefer. Maybe you avoid lazy workers, but now you have miserable, tired, stressed workers. (Who, at this job, drove like James Bond on coke. I REFUSE to drive a car dangerously.)

    A country with strong unions avoids these problems because union members generally keep other workers in line. Maybe the union together will bargain for a slower-paced workday, but a lazy worker who forces other workers to work harder will be straightened out, pronto. In Denmark, while it is easier to fire a troublesome employee, there is such a strong safety net that being fired is not a hardship. Workplaces avoid the worst workers, and quality work is valued over speedy work (most people work six or seven-hour days and have an hour or more for lunch.)

    Lots of ways we could do it better. But nobody who runs an American business cares about doing it better, so long as the money keeps rolling in. And so HR departments will continue training managers on how to improve employee “loyalty” and “retention” and be completely stupid, every time.

    • What I’ve found fascinating in the freelance world is how flaky people are. This is why actual writing chops are not at the top of the list in terms of what I look for. I’ve been hiring writers. We have a set process. I’ve given two writers try-out assignments — well-paid ones at that! It takes a while to get to that point. And these two writers have just disappeared. Repeated email is ignored. I can understand if they want to back out of it; maybe they got another job. But they just disappear.

      But on the other hand, if you are a good freelancer, there is a constant anxiety that you’ve got to take every job that comes around because if you don’t, the client will find someone else and never hire you again. I’m in a good position because I have a stable team of freelancers; I know how much work they are willing to do per week; and that’s that. But the industry itself is horrible. It’s the “gig economy.” And the reason we have it is because it works for the tiny number of capitalists and not the huge number of workers.

      Sorry about the job.

      • That is rude, and I’ve seen it too. At least send a text “it’s not for me”! But that’s another consequence of how we’ve degraded work. Professionalism is displayed by so few employers, why would employees bother with it? (Obviously I don’t mean you’re not professional. Just that most workers have little experience of employers behaving properly.)

        It’s odd. The people who are assigned weekly game coverage at our Twins blog are solid as hell about asking for some help if they need to miss a day. It’s a very professional bunch. And the blog pays nothing, and most have awful “real” jobs! But it’s a mutually respectful atmosphere, and that encourages professionalism. These people are more responsible than most co-workers I’ve had!

        • That is because they care.

          Frank does what he does (and is driving himself into the ground) because he cares about what he is doing. If you care about doing it right, then you will. At least that has been my experience.

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