Sunday, August 26, 2012

Work - a four letter word?

click photo to enlarge
"Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else."
J. M. Barrie (1860-1937), Scottish author and dramatist best known for "Peter Pan"

There are many who would agree with the implied definition of work that lies at the heart of Barrie's quotation. For many - probably most - work is a four letter word, a daily grind that is necessary for the income that it produces rather than the accomplishments that it entails. I've heard it argued that capitalism provided the wherewithal for a life that satisfies the bodily needs of the greatest number, but did so at the expense of increasing the amount of stultifying work. And yet, hasn't much work always been physically and mentally wearisome, at least since the time mankind started cultivation and a range of personal tasks became the role of specialised workers; jobs they did to the exclusion of all else in exchange for bartered goods or money?

What I found interesting during my experience of a variety of employment is the way that people find in their work rewards beyond money that make it more pleasurable. Factors such as friendship and camaraderie are not often the intentional product of an unfulfilling job, but frequently they make it more bearable. Those of us who have experienced employment that is generally fulfilling, and is seen by people as socially useful, have been fortunate. However, even this work has its downside as management techniques, systems, and the like impinge negatively on the core activity. It was certainly the case in my line of work that the higher I got within the system the more this happened. It was frequently the companionship of co-workers that kept me grounded at these times.

The other evening I cycled past a combine harvester working over a field of wheat. The sight of the driver in his noisy, air-conditioned isolation, only feet away from the tractor driver, similarly alone, caused me to reflect for a moment on the lot of the Fenland farmer. In the past, when agriculture was more labour intensive, human companionship (or even animal companionship) was common. Today many large Fenland farms are entirely managed by a single person with help hired, or else sought from friends and family, when needed. For much of the year man and machine do the necessary ploughing, sowing and tending of crops alone. Even the buying, selling and other routine exchanges often no longer involve face-to-face discussion but is conducted from the fields by phone. This increasing solitude is the experience of more work these days, from call-centre staff in their booths, hundreds in close proximity, individually spending most of their time alone, to home-workers at their computers and smartphones, communicating without speaking a word.

I stopped  my bicycle and got my camera out to take this shot. Immediately that was done I packed it into its case and put it in my pannier, sealing them tight as a cloud of wind-blown dust and chaff enveloped me.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 73mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/250 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On