This morning I had my semi-annual visit to the dentist, or rather, the dental hygienist. I dreaded the thought of that fingernail-on-chalkboard scraping sound against my teeth, all that jabbing with sharp instruments. But I can remember the day not so long ago when I worked at a PR agency and actually looked forward to time spent in the dentist’s chair. I was working so many hours that taking time to go to the dentist was a brief, tantalizing taste of vacation. One day in particular, I woke up ecstatic to realize that I — I! — was the lucky one that day! My root canal appointment would save me from attending a meeting everyone else on the team was hoping to avoid.
Relaxing at the dentist’s, listening to the jolly Van Morrison playing on the office sound system, untethered from email, being numb and forced to remain silent for hours afterward, was a liberating experience despite the accompanying discomfort of having my tooth sawed open down to the pulp. Back then I was so chronically exhausted from juggling multiple positions — a star “worker bee” in agency parlance — that I could almost sleep through the dental pain just as long as they kept me quasi-horizontal. As Van sang “What’s Wrong with this Picture?”, I started planning a change.
So when I read in last week’s Financial Times that the European Union is now increasing worker productivity faster than in the U.S., I became glum. Okay, okay, some of those French workers have it really easy, it is true. But it saddens me to see the gradual end of the Italian midday riposo, the whittling down of the Spanish siesta from four hours to something less, the opening of stores on Sundays in Germany for the mere sake of convenience, the decline of cafe society in Nordic countries. People, you are on a slippery slope!
Take it from the U.S. Decades of increasing productivity and what do we have to show for it:
* a diabetes epidemic (may I remind everyone it is not an infectious disease, and yet…) from junk food slammed down during “lunch break” at your desk
* high heart disease rates from stress, lack of exercise
* increasing divorce rate
* increasing rates of insomnia (sales of Ambien, Lunestra and like pharmaceuticals can attest to the trend)
* increasing trend in teeth grinding, which incidentally was the root cause of my root canal of yore
* rich Republicans and increasingly poor everyone else
Yeah, that’s right. Who are you working so hard for anyway?