Even as the world descends into chaos we still itch with the urge to work. We feel that ever familiar, stomach-knotting need to keep producing content at a rate that beckons burnout like no other.
Whilst confined to my flat I, like many others, have spent too much time online. I’ve noticed the surge in social media posts encouraging productivity at home: Instagram influencers and twitter celebrities explain how to keep producing content normally in an abnormal world. There are even posts on how to demarcate your work routine from your relaxation periods when working from home, down to getting dressed up in work-appropriate attire only to make a cup of tea and sit in the room next to your bedroom. This constant need to do things that contribute towards other things is a direct response to how we value our time and the work we produce, and Benjamin Franklin’s now ubiquitous aphorism “time is money” rings in my head.
However, as I continue to sift through my social media feeds I am met with a counter-revolution:
‘oh my god stop tweeting “nows the time to finish that project!” may we be excused from churning out quality content DURING A GLOBAL PANDEMIC PLEASE today i looked at my own leg for 45 minutes. just stared at it’. (Twitter)
I was stopped in my tracks, my brain momentarily readjusting to the concept that doing nothing is okay. This single tweet, one of many, challenges what we are fed on a daily basis. This brainwashing we receive, from the moment we enter the education system, pushes us to constantly work even during our downtime, even when our ‘down-time’ is a nationwide pandemic-induced self-isolation.
Integrally, this attitude proves only to further devalue work, especially for members of the arts industry, because by constantly working our output becomes part and parcel of our day-to-day behaviour, becoming ‘hobby-based’—done for enjoyment and not payment. This attitude is often extended to the humanities, with English literature mocked or treated as a ‘second-tier’ degree. It’s true that wanting to view the arts as an industry, like STEM, is an equally problematic position to be in: to want better conditions within a preexisting system but to disagree with the system itself. Yet, to understand that these two ideas are not mutually exclusive is the first step towards reevaluating the systems within the wider marketplace.
As the world grinds to an economic standstill we may feel a strange desire to speed up, as if to counteract the mess unfolding before us, but once in a while and especially now, it’s okay to slow down. By understanding we don’t always need to be producing content and working we help others and ourselves renegotiate the place of the arts industry within our own internal value systems. So slow down, take a deep breath, and consider what this pandemic can teach us.