Weisure? Or ruined vacation?
What better way to draw attention to blurring boundaries than by blurring words? Sociologist Dalton Conley has coined the term “weisure” to describe the mingling of work and leisure time. Yea that’s right, I said weisure. I think I find this term even goofier than glocal, which still makes me giggle a little.
Having skimmed over Conley’s CV I think issues of race, class, and gender are on his academic radar, thus the critique I’m about to offer is more directed towards the CNN article than perhaps it is towards Dr. Conley. That said I find the overly optimistic and glossy description of the “weisure lifestyle” to be rather problematic. A much more appropriate term would be the “weirsure class” (but of course we don’t like to acknowledge class in America…). The idea of weisure most prominently ignores issues of class and equally as much gender.
To start with, let’s talk about class. A large percentage of America’s workforce still occupy service industry and manual labor jobs and so it is important to understand exactly who gets to participate in weirsure time. Somehow I don’t think Walmart employees, or construction workers, or Starbucks baristas are permitted access to their smart phones during shifts.
Additionally, the article did not really account for the growing demands in which business professionals are expected to be available anywhere anytime. Bringing your work home, even “fun” work, is still work and can be disruptive. Even outside of the professional sphere, danah boyd
(2008) discusses the ways in which social networking sites foster feelings of “I must keep up with everyone”, which certainly aren’t healthy. Social convergence leads to a loss of control and privacy.
Next, the presentation of weisure problematically overlooked the role of gender. Within modern times one only has to look to the stay-at-home parent (most often the mother) for evidence of weisure. Taking care of children and a home is unarguably a lot of work, but for many parents there is also pleasure to be found in that work. Reading a book at the park while your kids are on the swing set should constitute weisure time – it is neither all work nor all leisure nor does it occupy separate public/private spheres. Issues of gender were not addressed within the article at all, which is of course indicative of America’s continued dismissal of child rearing as valuable work.
Finally, weisure was presented as rather ahistorical; work and leisure have certainly blurred prior to the advent of the information society, or the PC, or the smart phone. Within the article, nostalgic longing for the 1950s surfaces as some idyllic period in which boundaries between public and private were nice and neat. I don’t understand why the 1950s are continually the starting point for all historical perspectives. Looking back to the preindustrial age, public and private were much more permeable. As Bimber, Flanagin, and Stohl (2005) write:
…preindustrial societies, especially small-scale agricultural and rural communities, exhibited comparatively porous public-private boundaries. Heavy reliance on interpersonal communication for exchange of information and for coordination, high levels of familiarity among members of communities, and high social interdependence meant that the public sphere intermingled closely with what would be more private domains in the later age” (383).
In fact, it wasn’t until the industrial era that public and private boundaries were more definitively erected. And even in the 1950s there were panics about public/private disruptions. The television brought “the outside world into the home” as never before. Coupled with the rise of suburbia (obviously classed), leisure time became more privatized as individuals chose to relax within their own homes (or backyards) rather than in public.
I don’t want to be dismissive of weisure lifestyles, certainly new technologies are eroding boundaries and challenging conceptualizations of work, leisure, public, and private. However, any time we talk about revolutionary changes as a result of technologies, we must always be mindful to ask who has access to these changes and who is denied access. Furthermore, we should also contextualize our arguments within a historical framework of social change rather than risk falling into a technologically deterministic trap. Technology is not causing these changes, but rather facilitating them. Boundaries have never been as distinct as we might like to think, they have been challenged before and it is important to consider the ways in which history has dealt with these changes lest we get too caught up in nostalgia and technological revolutions.
Bimber, B., Flanagin, A. & Stohl, C. (2005). Reconceptualizing collective action in the contemporary media environment. Communication Theory 15, 365-388.