How To Be Idle

First thing I want to mention about the book, I think, is the format. It’s a very nice, tidy structuring and adds a great deal to the theme of the book, while throwing a nice bit of irony by designing it based around the 24 hour day, suggesting that desperate need to schedule every bit of time possible.

That said, I have mixed feelings for this book. I understand the points he’s trying to get across in the book, one main one being an attempt to convince people to stop feeling guilty whenever they do something other than expected of them by society (this being, naturally, the typical job and career and business to deal with) and taking control of what they want to do. Certainly, the question of who is in control of their life is raised. Is it the hardworking man, dedicated and efficient at doing the work he has, shooting for higher positions in life? Or is it the idler, the one resting and doing what they feel like, caring less than his fellow man about what he gets “done” for society? It’s a way of thinking about time versus money, or even “time is money”: who’s really losing out? It’s a case by case basis of course, but should give thought to what the value of a dollar is.

At the same time, he makes several statements I can’t really see through. It starts off with the suggesting of people being enslaved by modern technologies, organization and the like rather than benefitting from them. It puts for a whole “working towards working less” idea. After understanding that technology doesn’t exist for the sole purpose of simply making life easier (although that is one of the main functions provided), we find that it is in fact true. Look at old methods of farming a plot of land that didn’t necessarily yield a good crop for the winter and that was subject to the whims of the weather and the elements, and one begins to see that in fact life was harder for people in the past. It’s the creation of work for more products, yes, but a lot of these allow us comforts. Transportation, communication, all these things allow us to do things humans never could before.

Another issue I have is with the illnesses section. He makes erroneous claims, suggesting that modern medicine doesn’t work through outright statements, that doctors don’t prescribe rest, and that it’s all there to keep the machine going. It seems to undermine his point of spending more time for yourself, and indeed most of the time just seems an excuse for the preference of someone lazy to get time to do what they want.

I did enjoy the lunch section though. A break during the day is always good for a person, and lunch seems in places to have become for some people a detriment to efficiency in the workplace, an inconvenient fact of biology, rather than a break for people to recuperate before getting back to work. Indeed, perhaps an interesting idea is the power nap during work. Power naps of 20 minutes have been shown to improve certain memory functions, alertness, response time and cognitive skill, and this could easily be achieved during any one hour lunch break, so it could be a good implementation. Coffee could be taken immediately prior to it for a “caffeine nap,” to bolster the subject, giving him/her a rest to improve performance after.

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