“Wow, Look at those Christmas lights!” my sister exclaims on Thanksgiving weekend as our family drives by the one house on the street that sheds some light over our dark, lifeless suburb. Sadly, my mom concedes we won’t have time to put up lights this weekend as my Dad chimes in that when he was a kid every family on the street would have their lights up by now. “Why does no one have time to put up their Christmas lights anymore?” I wonder, for just a second, then I remember my essay due Monday and check my iPhone for updates on my Chinese project, and I forget about the Christmas lights, too, as my holiday spirit is trumped once again by my ever-pervasive work.
In Charles Dickens’s timeless cautionary tale, “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge is villainized for selfishly wanting to work on Christmas. But are we now really all that much different from the Scrooge, who we promised ourselves we would never become? Take a moment to ask yourself: On your Thanksgiving break, did you bring work home, and did you spend time doing that work instead of spending time with family and friends, or decorating your house with Christmas lights? For most of us the answer is a guilty “yes.” And it is our “always-on” workaholic attitude bolstered by the digital age that is responsible for us losing our way.
It is notables that now, 56 percent of American adults can access the Internet wirelessly via mobile devices, signaling a new American age of enabled “workaholism.” With smartphones and laptops now ubiquitous, everyone can be on call at all times, in all places, resulting in a turnaround time for work that approaches instantaneous. In the digital age, we have all built mobile workplaces around ourselves, blurring the once sacred line between our working lives and family lives. This disturbing development became immediately clear to me when after Thanksgiving dinner my aunt took an odd snapshot of my family: We were all around the kitchen table watching a movie out of the corner of our eyes, but in actuality, we were each hard at work on our respective laptops!
Not even Dickens would have imagined an image so perverse and counter to the holiday spirit in his time, yet this is now commonplace in our society, where if not on laptops we are impatiently checking email on our phones instead of devoting full attention to the holiday at hand. Although we are no longer physically forced to go to work on holidays, we don’t seem to be able to leave work mentally either, and in doing so, we merely circumvent the warning Dickens desperately tried to tell.
“A Christmas Carol,” set in the time of the Industrial Revolution over 160 years ago, cautions against an obsession with money and work over true values like family and love. But, ironically, by surrounding ourselves with technology, we seem to have regressed back to those bleak times. It is not a matter of more work these days; our parents’ generation could make time for the holidays, despite similar work commitments. Their healthier spirit came with a stricter adherence to tradition and family values that our generation seems to have lost along the way. Let’s learn from our Christmas past (or Thanksgiving past, for that matter) and realize that there is a time for work but more importantly, a time to completely forget about that work, shut down our laptops, stash our iPhones, and just put up Christmas lights.
Jason A. Gandelman ’14, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Canaday Hall.