Terry Cummins

Terry Cummins

The present generation must think W-O-R-K is a four-letter word and nearly as bad as the foul ones, which should not be spoken, written or performed. In my day, an honest day’s work on the farm was regulated by daylight hours and, if necessary, a kerosene lantern provided enough light to milk the cows.

Like all other ethics in this modern age, the work ethic has changed dramatically. If work is what it used to be, how come we have to go out of the country to get people to mow yards and re-roof our homes so we can sit in an electronically controlled environment punching keys all day long? There’re too many minds wandering aimlessly out in cyberspace.

Back in the old days before food stamps, if you worked hard to get out of work, not only was it sinful but also your stomach shrunk because of the don’t-work-don’t-eat-rule. Historically, hard labor actually began when the Garden of Eden became a garden requiring a rototiller. Consequently, man began rebelling against hard work and used every excuse imaginable including being allergic to sweat.

The past hundred years has been devoted to making work and life easier. Mechanization and automation eliminated much of the drudgery from the laborious and physically demanding types of work. I grew up on the farm in the mid-20th Century — the end of the semi-dark ages. We worked the land as had been done for centuries, and it was performed the hard way. Eventually, the horse-drawn plow was replaced by the air-conditioned, stereo-equipped tractor, the dishpan with a Whirlpool and the brain with a laptop. When the channel changer becomes voice activated, we’ll have it made. If Dr. Phil gets monotonous, just say, “Insurgency,” and you’ll get one of five news channels.

Mechanization wasn’t good enough. What if “something” could be developed to operate a machine so a laborer would not get grease on his hands? It was. Program a tractor and the irrigation system and sit on the front porch watching the corn grow.

Specials then began finding ways to avoid the “rush hour.” If an employee could work at home in his pajamas, wouldn’t it increase productivity and save time and gas? Yes, it would save gas and employees could go on working even when having gas. More companies are going into “telework,” which is working at home using the vast universal web known as cyberspace. It’s estimated that nearly ten million employees now work at home at least one day per week. Forty-percent of IBM employees now work at home or away from the office. Employees are now sitting at a computer in their home with dogs barking, small kids throwing objects and the phone ringing. Many employees long for those quiet moments when stuck in a traffic jam.

With a large part of the office workforce stationed in a cubicle attempting to get a computer to do something productive, many workers become keypunch drunk. What’s happening is that the lure of the Internet is too inviting. A sales report can easily become Texas poker in a flash. Companies are studying this shirking-work problem and have found that 1.86 hours of an eight-hour workday are squandered. It’s estimated that employers spend $544 billion per year on salaries for work expected, but not produced. The survey discovered that of the 1.86 hours workers waste, over half was used surfing the Internet for personal use.

My first salaried job paid $1.25 per hour, big money then. It was a 53-hour workweek with nine hours per day on Monday through Friday and eight on Saturday. The benefits included the opportunity to work, the payday if you actually worked 60 minutes per hour and one long break, which started at 5:01 p.m. We also had a surveillance system to insure that we didn’t lean on a shovel handle. The system was the “boss man,” who had apparently learned human relations from Adolph Hitler.

Work at the workplace in the information age is making life easier, isn’t it? Whether it’s a plush office or the den, you’re shoveling information in and out. The world is suffering from a data overload. It drains the brain and strains the nerves.

Give me a hayfield or a clogged sewer line. Never need a sleeping pill. Why else does President Bush keep going to the ranch in Texas to clear brush?

Terry Cummins is a New Albany resident and a retired educator from the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. His column appears Sundays. He can be reached at TLCTLC@aol.com.

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