'Matter of Laugh or Death,' the award-winning humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
A GRIM FAIRY TALE
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, all the people were very healthy and happy. They had a fine and balanced arrangement for the 24 hours in each day. They set aside eight hours for sleeping, eight hours for working, and eight hours for socializing and relaxing.
Then one day, a wicked sorcerer appeared. He called himself Professor Technology and disguised himself as a kind and helpful friend. He was charming and intelligent and all the people admired him. But deep down, Professor Technology did not care at all about the citizens of the land. He thought they were stupid and lazy and wasted far too much of their time. (What he actually said to himself, in his cold-hearted way, was, “The human resources in this profit center are not operating at maximum effectiveness and efficiency. Therefore, appropriate policies, procedures, and products must be implemented to increase economic output.”)
So Professor Technology cast a spell over the whole land. He convinced the people that if they followed him and his labor saving ideas, they would be able to get their work done in only four or five hours per day. The people were so excited about getting more free time, they agreed to do whatever Professor Technology asked. Soon, magical and mysterious devices began to appear. Micro-chips and computers sprouted up in most workplaces.
But before any extra free time materialized, newer labor saving devices appeared. Fax machines, modems, email, and overnight delivery services allowed the people to work faster, but they were working many more hours than before. The people were starting to become puzzled. Where was the free time they were promised? Professor Technology suggested they remain patient. “Regrettably, our nasty competition is also using labor saving devices,” he said, failing to mention it was he who supplied these competitors. “We must keep pace for now. But have no fear, I promise, free time is coming.” The people still thought it rather strange that time-saving inventions were making them work longer hours, but they kept their faith in Professor Technology.
It now seemed that newer and more exotic devices were appearing on a daily basis. Fiber optics, video conferences, cell phones, digital pagers, and high-speed satellite networks were keeping the people at their jobs for twelve, fourteen, even eighteen hours each day. And many Saturdays and Sundays, too.
The fine and balanced arrangement of time which had made the people healthy and happy was now gone. Anyone able to sleep five hours per night felt fortunate. The term “quality time” was invented to remind the people of the importance of spending ten or fifteen minutes each week with their children. Traditional activities such as reading a book, taking a walk, and chatting with neighbors ceased to exist. The people were neither healthy nor happy anymore. Professor Technology continued to assure them, “There will be free time soon.”
Still more amazing machines appeared. Whether in their cars or at the dinner table or even in bed, the people could attend to the duties and problems and worries of the job. They now felt more trapped and stressed out than ever.
Then one day Professor Technology announced that many of the over-worked people finally would receive the free time they had so desperately desired. New and exciting concepts such as corporate takeovers, downsizing, and out-sourcing to foreign countries allowed hundreds of thousands of people to become familiar with another new and exciting concept: chronic unemployment.
As promised, these people now had all the free time in the world. But they remained sad because they could no longer afford their houses or cars or health insurance premiums. The other people who still had jobs were now required to carry out, in addition to their regular work, the tasks left behind by the fired workers. They spent more time and energy at their jobs than ever before.
And except for Professor Technology, they all lived unhappily ever after.
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