The broken human machine
I was on the train home earlier, on a relatively short 30-minute ride that I paid far too much money for, when a podcast grabbed my attention. The fictional urban legend told the story of a man sitting dead at his work cubicle after a stress-induced heart attack. The most disturbing detail, however, was that nobody even noticed that he was dead for a number of days. It was from this story that I sat and thought to myself: ‘could this actually happen?’ but the answer to that question is a little more difficult to reach than one might expect.
Work culture differs massively around the world. In Germany, for example, it’s actually illegal to be contacted by your workplace outside of your obligated hours. Most enticing, however, are the countries that take 1–2-hour breaks in the middle of the day for a relaxed lunch or even a nap. However, many other nations’ workers, particularly in the western world and Asia, often have no such luxury and it may be the norm for their boss to call them at home requesting them to work extra hours, regardless of whether or not the employee has permitted this out-of-hours contact. I myself have been subject to this, and it can be very intimidating and difficult to say ‘no,’ particularly when you’re new to the world of work as a young person.
Luckily, recent years have seen a seismic shift in working practice, but there is still a long way to go. While we have mostly migrated from cubicle-laced offices towards a more laid-back open plan environment, and (due to the pandemic) seen a huge rise in home-based working much to many boss’ dismay, we still find that our lives revolve around working. Too many of us are on the same cycle of work, eat, sleep, repeat, day in and day out with little or nothing to look forward to aside from a few days holiday (vacation, if you’re not British) if you’re lucky. This reality is in no small part a result of soaring living costs and enormous student debts that have to be paid without mercy, which could be an entire story in itself. Centuries ago, one’s daily chores and work would be based on a theory of subsistence and providing for oneself and your family. Now, we work to pay taxes and bills, and use what little leftover money we have to buy material purchases that have no real value except for a short moment of joy in an ever-bleak existence.
Across the world, there is a huge disparity in the level of satisfaction among the population regarding work, work-life balance, the community, and life-satisfaction in general. Unsurprising, as is often seen to be the case, Nordic countries rank the highest in almost every category. Whatever they’re doing, they’re getting it right. The United Kingdom, however, is on measly middle-ground, and there is a clear consensus of distrust and resentment among the general populace aimed towards councils and governments, who seem to care very little about the struggles we’re facing as a community. Too many people are choosing between eating themselves and feeding their children or eating at all and warming their home. We’re in the 21st century, this should not nearly be a concern in this modern era.
So, in short, what I’m saying is: you, as a human, do not exist solely to make another man and his government rich. There is an entire world to explore, cultures to experience, joy to be had. We need social change, and we need it now, before everyone burns out. We need fairness, we need compassion, and we need to come together as a community to enact this change before it’s too late.