Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Outsourced Life

A new book by Arlie Russell Hochschild, an ethnographic sociologist, really gets you thinking about the details of your daily life, tasks, and relationships, and how outsourcing might not be progress. Sometimes more is not more; it is a bit empty and disconnected from our human spirit. Hochschild's book is The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Company, 2012).

As people work more hours and are less connected to family and friends, they outsource more help for personal things, like:



care of elderly parents

wedding planning

holiday cards

planning and preparing meals




washing the car

love coaches

home organizers

holiday decorators/light installers


college planning


dog walkers/doggy daycare/pet waste clean-up

window washers

The writer has a non-judgmental style as she interviews both business owners and people who purchase these personal services because they are busy, aren't sure how to do them, or feel they are not good at them. Clearly, people are more disconnected from these hands-on tasks to daily living than they were in previous generations. Paying for services that are very personal adds a different element, and Hochschild is sympathetic to both sides--overworked consumers and the personal service workers who provide these services to create their own living.

The book raises interesting questions about whether we are creating social stratas that are different economically and experientially, with order-barking, fast-paced directors and entrepreneurs at the top, and emotionally attuned, patient, and human-paced mediators at the bottom. Hochschild interviews surrogate mothers who offer a "womb to rent" in disadvantaged circumstances, as well as the people who hire them. She interviews nannies and child-care and elder-care workers, and the busy, hassled employers who hire and depend deeply on them. It is a relationship which is both economic and emotionally intimate with the most vulnerable family members. There are often regrets from the employers that they can't afford to take the time to be with the baby or the aging parent themselves.

This is an interesting book that helps us examine the emotional costs of outsourcing too much in the personal areas of our life, the labors of love. While not everyone has the family or friend support to get through certain life tasks without professional help, this book is a good reminder that there is inherent value, joy, and meaning in the little tasks of caring for our children, helping our elderly parents, gardening, cooking our own imperfect holiday meals, etc. These are the little things that make us connected to those we love and care for, and make our lives both richer and deeper.

There is more to life than speed and efficiency, and we need to be aware of outsourcing too many essential life functions that make our lives more real and grounded. Don't miss out on all the messy stuff which will fill your life with more color and experiences. Work can be too demanding, and rob you of far too much if you don't set some limits. I guess this explains how pulling weeds and planting things in our garden is one of the bright spots of bliss in my week.

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