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TEXT OF INTERVIEW
KAI RYSSDAL: It’s almost a given now that work follows us home. We spend hours on the computer at night. We take fewer vacation days. And even when we’re away from the office, we’re not really gone. It’s been a while since the 40-hour week was enough to keep up. But in his new book, “Elsewhere U.S.A.,” New York University sociologist Dalton Conley makes the case that it’s only gotten worse.
Dalton, welcome to the program.
DALTON CONLEY: Thanks for having me on the show Kai.
RYSSDAL: This is fundamentally, I guess, a book about work-life balance, but really what you do is you tell us how we’re not getting any of it right.
CONLEY: Yeah, it’s really about work-life imbalance and the underlying forces — some of them very visible but some of them more invisible — that have created this new social and economic landscape that we work in.
RYSSDAL: And the visible ones we know about, right? I mean everybody’s got their Blackberry, they’re on the computer all the time, the kids have 14 different things to do after school. What are the ones though that maybe we’re not entirely aware of?
CONLEY: Well, a couple of big socio-demographic changes have occurred since the 60s. First is rising economic inequality. Every year since 1969 economic inequality has risen in the United States and has particularly been concentrated in the top half. In fact, the higher up you go, the more inequality has risen and the gaps get bigger. And I think this causes what I call an economic redshift, no matter where you are on the top half, it looks like everybody is rushing away from you.
RYSSDAL: That’s insane. I mean, on the face of it, that’s nuts, right?
CONLEY: It’s a brave new world. For the first time, it was people with incomes over $200,000, in a New York Times poll, that said that they feel poorer when they’re around rich people as compared to people who are actually poor. That’s stunning to me. And for the first time in labor history, the further up the income ladder you go, the more hours you work.
RYSSDAL: Give me an example of how the title of your book plays out. It’s called “Elsewhere U.S.A.” What does that mean in practice?
CONLEY: It means that this class of professionals, what I call “the elsewhere class” is increasingly in more than one place at one time. So if they’re at home ostensibly having dinner with the family their minds, or perhaps their thumbs as they click away on the Blackberry under the table, are actually communicating with other folks somewhere else back in the office. They might be more distracted at work because they’re also worried about the fact that their kid is home sick, and they have to after this meeting rush right home to relieve the mom or the dad, since there is more shared child care in this regard. And it’s constant frenetic pace where we’re always on route to elsewhere if not physically then in some communicative way, through telecommunications or travel or what have you.
RYSSDAL: You could of course just not have a Blackberry and not have DSL at home with broadband internet access. And you could just have a regular 9-5 job and come home and cook the dinner and put the kids to bed. Is that viable?
CONLEY: Many people still live that life. Increasingly, the people at the top don’t, and I don’t really think it’s an option for them. Of course, any social ethic or any movement creates its opposite, and we have this slow-foods movement emerging and the simple back to basics living movement. And some people sell the business and move to rural Maine and build their house with their bare hands from scratch. But for most of us, we want the Blackberrys, we like our work, and we want to be connected, but we want to have fulfilling connections and not lose the intimacy that we once had.
RYSSDAL: Dalton Conley is a professor of sociology at New York University. His latest book is called “Elsewhere U.S.A.” Dalton thanks a lot.
CONLEY: Thanks Kai.