Working for free
It’s time to stop working for free. I’m tired. You’re tired. The planet turns at the same speed and yet there is never enough time. We are busy and tired. These are our badges of honour.
Every spare moment gets burned up and we are burning out. When we think we’re doing nothing, we’re often working. In an attention economy, even if we don’t spend money, the time immersed in our devices is valuable. This we splurge with little thought to time budget or attention investment. Our views and clicks earn money as a bountiful harvest of data. Some people treasure their privacy. My discomfort is learning that I work for free as a data generator, taking in advertisements, reading opinion articles on Trump, filling out Facebook surveys. Someone profits and it’s not me. Technology designers know how to keep us scrolling. We spend money. We spend attention. It’s win/win, while we’re plugged in.
We’re not built for this, but we are born to it. It’s what we know. Relentless input is exhausting, but we itch for it and return to our devices for a fresh scratch of brain fireworks. We are over-stimulated, drained, addicted, and entertained. We labour in all the in-between spaces of our lives, at tram stops and the coffee queue. I’m tired, you’re tired, and we are both far too busy.
At birth, we are gifted the (mis)adventures of life. Our purpose is as simple as every other living creature; to bear witness to the world and participate in its rhythms. The pulse of our planet thrums with each rotation. The tides are drawn across the deep by the moon and our seasons shift in ellipse around our dense, powerful sun. The moods of our thin, shimmering atmosphere are swift and terrifying. Heat, light, water, wind and fire exchange blows across the surface and through it all, Earth’s living creatures breathe in and out and make their way through the melee.
Except us. We turn inward, absorbed by a world entirely of our own making. Contained and cut off, we grow restless, distracted, disconnected, anxious, and rushed. Everything is amplified. This world of our making has a digital pulse designed for machines, thrumming ever bright, ever attentive, pushing for greater efficiency and productivity. Our flesh will never be good enough for it. Our energy flags and fails. We make mistakes. Our skin is marked and our bodies, misshapen. We perfect ourselves digitally, while we privately grieve over the battle scars our real world bodies bear.
We present effigies of achievement that burn bright on the outside, while we burn out within. I’m tired, you’re tired, and neither of us have enough left to connect.
What comfort we miss out on! The human animal is a social one. We are built to be seen and known and belong. There is joy and satisfaction in the safe space of familiar skin, the warm pressure of long hugs and the massage of uncontrollable laughter on our insides. Each victory is shared and each story inspires new adventures. We sit down together and participate in the oldest of rituals, sharing a meal.
Humans love to make meaning. We see patterns in everything and faces in inanimate objects. We make art, religion, languages, societies. We build things and break them and make new things. We will always be subject to society in some way. To be free isn’t to reject society, or turn your back all things digital or technological, go counter-cultural and hipster. It’s simply the ability to decide for yourself what’s meaningful and when and have that choice respected, even if it isn’t well understood.
Your time is yours. Your attention is yours. Take it back.
“Freedom is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be.”
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