Hustle culture is centuries in the making, but we do have a choice

By Dennis Geelen

Phone addictions began with Canada’s BlackBerry in the early 2000s.

Did we ever stand a chance? We have gotten to a point where we feel the constant need to be busy. 

When it comes to work, we feel the need to be busy producing, creating, and accomplishing tasks. 

But what about when our extended workday is finally over (for some of you, that feels like never) and we find ourselves with what could be some much-needed idle time?

In these cases, we feel the need to fill that time with busyness, in an almost fearful approach to the possibility of being alone with our thoughts. 

We generally fill these times accomplishing things around the house. And when those items are off our to-do list and we finally have some time for ourselves, we end up scrolling social media, watching Netflix or playing games on our phones.

The time that could be spent being idle . . . thinking, relaxing, enjoying quietness . . . instead must be filled with constant stimulation and busyness.

So how did we get here?

Let’s take a look at a few pivotal moments in history that led us to where we are today. 

And then ask ourselves, “How did we not see this coming?”

First, we have the introduction of the clock and the idea of measuring time. It started with the sundial and then in the 1300s we had the first mechanical clocks. 

With this new and better way of measuring time, we began to measure what we do in terms of time and then found ourselves “on the clock,” so to speak. 

A hint of hustle culture begins to form as we put time constraints on our work now that we have a better way or tracking and measuring time.

Fast-forward a few hundred years to the 1800s when the electric light bulb was introduced.

Now we are not only able to measure how much we can get done and how fast using the clock, but we can now extend how long we are able to be “busy working.” 

The concept of the end of the workday eventually transforms into whatever we decide it could look like. And the idea of ending your work and starting your rest (not to mention sleeping) evolves as we have this device that sheds more light (literally) on what we can accomplish in a day. 

Again, we cannot help ourselves and hustle culture takes another big step forward.

As technology continues to advance, with it comes several new efficiency-creating devices throughout the 1900’s: dishwashers, microwaves, washing machines and more 

We then find ourselves in an era where, through automation, we can get even more work done during our extended workdays. 

A focus on productivity and busyness only escalates and becomes even more engrained in our psyche.

Did you know phone addictions began with Canada’s BlackBerry in the early 2000s? Often called the “Crackberry,” in a comparison to crack cocaine, our 24/7 culture of checking our phones begins here. 

So, it is no wonder that by the time Apple releases the first iPhone in June 2007, we are already programmed to abuse it.

We are wired to want to use smartphones’ many features and apps to try to be even more productive and fill any potential quiet or idle time with more distractions, stimulations and a sense of busyness.

Where will hustle culture end? 

Will yet another advancement in technology come along and cause us to fall even deeper into this void? Or will there be a global awakening to the slippery slope we are on and a unified course correction? 

Perhaps the last two years of the pandemic is already opening our eyes and the first few tiny steps of a course correction are starting to take shape.

Time will tell.

-Dennis Geelen is the Founder of Zero In and a customer experience and innovation consultant.

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