“Leisure? The good life? What are those? Work is the central aspect of our lives," writes Dalton Conley in Elsewhere, U.S.A. "Success in today's professional world doesn't mean retiring at fifty to play golf in Florida, it means working more and more hours as you move up a towering ladder of economic opportunity (and inequality)."
Focusing on stressed-out, upper-middle-class professionals, Conley probes the socioeconomic landscape, dominated by the vanishing line between work and home life. The author points to three factors that have helped create this new paradigm: growth of women in the economy; expansion of information technology to allow 24/7 work schedules; and earning inequality at the top of the socioeconomic ladder.
The digital age, says Conley, has ushered in an "Elsewhere Society" in which people feel pressure to constantly work more to maintain or increase their status: "When the price — i.e., the opportunity cost — of leisure rises thanks to our higher pay rate, then the scales are tilted toward working more, not less." Citing Google as an example, Conley predicts business success will rely on a company's ability to "blend and bend rather than build walls between the domains of life."
As business and social domains become further intertwined, the importance of social interaction is magnified. "In an information and service economy," writes the author, "much of what drives success is, in fact, social skills."
Conley, chairman of the sociology department at New York University, coins a term for this: "Intravidualism is an ethic of managing the many data streams, impulses, desires, and even consciousnesses that we experience in our heads as we navigate multiple worlds." Sociologist-speak aside, Conley is spot-on in his analysis of our hyperconnected world. In these days of BlackBerry ubiquity, it's useful to have an experienced guide to help make sense of it all — and maybe convince us to unplug once in a while.
Eric Liebetrau is an editor at Kirkus Reviews.