Provocative analysis of stressed-out, striving upper-income professional couples cast adrift in today’s 24/7 market-based information economy.
In the past 30 years, trends in three areas—the growth of the service economy, women in the workforce and the revolution in computing and telecommunications—have given rise to an utterly new type of American living in a new cultural landscape, argues Conley (Sociology/New York Univ.; The Pecking Order: Which Siblings Succeed and Why, 2004, etc). Today’s elites are educated multitaskers in two-income families who find themselves in a world without familiar boundaries between home and work, juggling their own and their children’s schedules, always feeling that they should be elsewhere. In the Elsewhere Society, these young married professionals earning $200K suffer fragmented identities (investment bankers are alienated!), live multiple lives (with more available through new e-mail accounts) and anxiously work harder than ever to get ahead amid rising income inequality and the sense that they are poorer than others of their class. Further, because their service-economy careers produce nothing tangible, many of these professionals “feel like frauds,” writes Conley. While effectively describing the key forces now shaping American life, the author gets carried away in his speculation on their impacts, contriving needless new words (i.e., “intravidualism” is replacing individualism; we spend our time in “weisure,” combining work and leisure) and making the well-off sound like basket cases in a strange wireless land. Smitten by a visit to the Google workplace, he believes the weisure way of life there “epitomizes the Elsewhere Ethic” and points the way to successful living in the future. Many readers will recognize aspects of the new social landscape posited here but wonder whether the author has not exaggerated the great shift in how we live now, and shortchanged the countervailing power of individualism, common sense and traditional institutions.
Bright, readable, overblown view of our hyperactive times.