3. Speed chains

"Isn't it odd that a century which should, by all rights, be the most leisurely in all history is also known to be, and condemned for being, the fastest?"1

Jagdish is a worker in a studio which gives video-equipment on hire. He has to travel along with the equipment each time it leaves the studio. His troubles have increased as production companies now choose to travel by air to cut equipment hiring costs. Air travel cuts the idle time for the equipment drastically and is very popular with production units. However, it plays havoc with the working schedule of the workers who act as chaperons of the equipment. An instance :

Day I
Dawn.....:... Jagdish travels from Delhi to Hyderabad, a distance of i500 kms, with the equipment.

Day....: ....Jagdish works on a 11 hour- shift.

Night......:.... He takes a flight back to Delhi along with the equipment.

Day II
Dawn........:.... Jagdish flies to Calcutta - another 1500 kms. The equipment has been hired to another company.

Morning....:... Something is found amiss with the equipment ; Jagdish travels back to Delhi.

Dusk....:...... He travels again to Calcutta.

Day III
Morning...:.....Jagdish on a 12 hour shift.

Night....:......The shooting is finished, Jagdish rushes back to Delhi - to eradicate any 'idle time'.

3.1 the information and transportation web
Telephones at homes make workers easily accessible after shift hours. This extends the working hours.

Telephone companies have aided this phenomenon by charging higher rates during office hours. It costs companies less if the employees work after their shift hours.

Faxes, and informality in official corres-pondence introduced alongside, have made the sending and receiving of letters a matter of minutes. Office workers using fax machines do ten times, or more, correspondence compared to when faxes were not used.

Counter-ingenuity strikes
More and more workers are not divulging their residential phone numbers to their supervisors and bosses, only friendly colleagues are informed of the secret.

Cordless phones go further, and make it possible for people to be summoned in more inaccessible places, like in their toilets!

Cellular phones and lap-top computers further erase any time for leisure. They keep people working whether travelling in a train or stuck in a traffic jam.

Pagers help employers keep track of the mobile workers and act as electronic chains by which workers can be commanded by a tug on the chain.

Some police departments have developed devices which fit even more nicely into the definition of electronic chains and are also called the same. These devices alert the police whenever the wearer moves out of certain prescribed limits.

We can safely bet attempts will be made to introduce these electronic-chains for mobile-workers as workers are getting over their initial fascination for pagers and are inventing ways to subvert them by not answering the pager beep, switching the pager off, erasing unanswered messages.

Fast over-night trains make possible that people spend the nights in trains and the days at work.

Air travel, which now means pre-dawn departures and late-night arrivals, allows only a few hours of sleep at home or in a hotel.

It is characteristic for all big cities that the airports have their busiest departure times in the early hours of the morning in order to carry people to work in other cities. The working shift then obviously begins a couple of hours before these scheduled departures.

the swan-song of slowness
In a period when all our time is being devoured by speed chains, it is odd to simultaneously hear the persistent complaint about things being slow and getting late.

How is it that the two co-exist ?

This speeding-up is not taking place in a vacuum. Competition creates the necessity to do more in the face of the threat that you still might be too slow.

For example, in any project, the time of completion is an important part of the contract. Each competitor, in its bids and plans, tries to outdo the other. Approved plans envisage speedier implementation than ever before. Actual work usually lags behind what is planned, and in that sense it is slow and delayed. However, it is still faster than the previous fastest. Thus, the two seemingly antagonistic results exist together.

Another reason for this persistent song of slowness is the managerial ingenuity trying to counter workers' resistance to intensification of work, by pre-empting workers' objections against speeding up of work.

3.2 weary with toil

Health
A friend working as a camera-person (actually an euphemism - he is being made a pioneer in the art of simultaneously working as a camera-person, camera-assistant and a sound recordist) with a television company began losing hair near his temple.

The doctor's prescription : relax.

Diagnosis : overwork and strain.

Now in his late-twenties, he started working only three years ago. Besides doing the work of three people for long hours, his work compels him to portray the world in opposition to his experiences. For instance, news programme done by the same company he works in extolled over-burdened children. The programme applauded an advertising gimmick by a restaurant in Delhi. The restaurant had introduced a scheme of giving free ice-creams to children who scored more than 90% in their school exams. "There is some good news for children and a good reason to put in that extra bit", said the programme.

A homeopathic doctor to a patient of spondylitis:

"So many people are suffering from cervical spondylitis these days. I am myself suffering from it, so is my assistant. Even young children have this complaint. And there is only one reason for it. Too much work. But I will prescribe a medicine to do away with the pain and suggest an exercise. If you do the exercise you may work 12-hours a day without any problem. And I do not intend to recommend a repertoire of exercises which nobody has the time to do. I will suggest you a simple exercise which you may do even while you are travelling and that will be sufficient."

A number of diseases are now associated with the pervasive feeling of time running out, with the speeded-up pace of living, and with the pressure of getting things done in time. Because an intense sense of urgency speeds up human body rhythms, a frequent outcome is heart disease, high blood pressure, lowering of the immune function and an increase of susceptibility to infection, and cancer. The rise in the incidence of sleep related diseases and problems associated with stress are an obvious fallout. A new disease which is a result of time pressure and work intensity is being called 'hurry sickness'.2

Deaths because of over-work are rising. Recent deaths of TV and film workers in India have forced other workers to question the inhuman work-schedules of multiple shifts a day in this industry.

weary with toil? haste !

Medicine
The axial principle of medicinal practice is to provide quick remedies and make people ready for work. A popular ad on television for an ointment for sprains and aches puts it succinctly. Its Unique Selling Point - 'Iodex maliye, kam pe chaliye' [Rub Iodex, and rush to work] - is true for Medicine in general. Workers do not have the time to relax or give their bodies time to heal in case of illness. The obvious trap one falls into is frequent and habitual medication, further eroding the body's resistance to disease - a vicious circle.

Some systems of medicine - e.g. the homeopathic and ayurvedic systems - lost popularity and were not considered worthwhile precisely because their treatment was based on giving the body some time to heal. The dichotomy between allopathic and homeopathic medicine, or between 'western' medicine and 'traditional' medicine is now serving to diffuse the wide spread dissatisfaction with, and the questioning of, the dominant medical practice.

However, these 'slow systems' are now changing track to be on the fast lane as well. Treatment is being geared to quick medication and fast recovery. For example, steroids are being used in some Ayurvedic medicines for quicker effect.

3.3 Mass consumption is Mass intensification
Mass intensification necessitates a continuous increase in consumption. Consumption here implies the purchase and use of objects that serve merely as tools to channelise the worker's time and energy for the intensification of work in the production process. This is required so that we are able to become and survive as wage-workers.

Just as intensification of work requires more expenditure on machinery, on infrastructure, and on technologies of control, similarly, it compels wage-workers to spend more as requirements keep rising to cope with the ever demanding nature of work

Such necessities are spread over a vast range :

  • products and services needed to maintain punctuality
  • products for 'saving time' which can be devoted to wage-work
  • products needed to cope up with the effects of long intense hours of work

Watches & clocks -> Necessary for time-management and punctuality.

Tea & Coffee -> Opium was earlier given to artisans and labourers during periods of intense activity. Tea and coffee provide the wide-spread and diluted substitutes for this practice. They have also served as eradicators of the post-lunch nap and the early-morning slumber.

Refrigerators -> Cook food once a day. Store packaged food.

Cooking gas, cookers, toasters -> To cook food before the family rushes for school, college, office and factory.

Washing machines -> Laundry possible only on the weekly holiday.

Cloth dryers -> No place or sun in crammed apartments.

2-minute noodles -> 2-minute food.

Fast food -> A meal in 4-minutes flat.

Frozen food, masala mixes, packed food -> Quick-fix food.

Microwave oven -> Cook while you work. Heat refrigerated and packaged food in double quick time.

Telephones -> Be available while at home.

Pagers -> Be available while on the move.

Lifts & Escalators -> Necessary for high-rise buildings.

High-rise buildings -> Results of highly-centralised, densely-populated cities.

Suburbs -> Workers move into suburbs because they can not afford city centres.

Vehicles -> Essential for all jobs, as workers move out of city-centres due to unaffordable rents, or are forcibly evicted as property rates rise.

Literacy -> Essential for all jobs, in factories or otherwise.

Education -> Essential for office jobs.

Entertainment -> To provide an illusion of life to tired minds and bodies, and numbed souls.

the sandwich effect
Wage-workers are being sandwiched between the opposing movement of lowering purchasing power and rising necessities. Consumer gadgets are necessary so as to cut-down time for housework. This does not lead to more leisure time. Rather, they are necessary so that both parents can become and continue as wage-workers. Domestic gadgets have also become essential, as wage-workers, because of decreasing wages, do not have time for domestic work and can not afford domestic help. Domestic wage-workers are also pushed into more intensive work or unemployment. This phenomenon, however, is often obfuscated by a moral disapproval of hiring domestic workers.

Similarly, the need for vehicles and mass transportation is increasing because wage-workers are multiplying and the distances between the place of residence and the place of work is growing.

The squeeze of the sandwich effect is still more. Wages are not enough for buying necessities. Loans & credit become the normal means for buying necessities - future work and earnings are promised in return for consumption necessary in the present.

Another pressure builds up against relaxation. Another motivation surfaces for resistance.

The attempts of the managers of seduction to counter resistance are seen in the various explanations forwarded to explain the sandwich effect. "Consumerism is growing", "quality of life is rising", "there is too much money", and "new expensive leisure is emerging" are some of these.

The outcome of the sandwich effect is that the working day expands, our work intensifies and the domestic unit contracts.

One person households with 14 hour working-day increase; two person households with 26 hour working-day become fashionable; three person households with 30 hour working-day dominate.

3.4 New leisure Sports - no fun no play
Far from being a form of play, sports have come to acquire a meaning which is an antonym of playfulness, fun and leisure.

Sports plays with players.

performance
In the playing field the assignment is to perform to the best of one's abilities. To perform under given rules and instructions, marked by grimness, stress and tension. To perform under the hierarchy of players, captains, coaches and managements. The captain, part management and part player, has the task to bridge the schism between the two.

With the motto - "higher, stronger and faster" - sports are transparently the avant-garde of intensification techniques. The process of recasting the human body begins at an infantile age. Throughout the player's life the body functions as a laboratory for quick-fix medicine and performance-enhancing drugs. Techniques of exerting the injured body are experimented. Resulting teenage-burnouts are now no longer seen as aberrations.

The doses of stimulants and the teams of psychologists simultaneously concentrate on stretching the fatigued mind and soul, and investigating into motivation-strategies. Moreover the players, and especially the stars, must keep up and propagate the pretence of enjoying the competition and the intensification. This is necessary to retain their jobs, salaries, endorsements and modelling contracts.

The contest is an arena for the perfection of measurement technologies, a boon for implementing work intensification on the shopfloor. The interest of cities to host big events is to get resources for infrastructural change - faster roads, fly-overs, displacing populations from prime-land, etc.

Having progressed from games (to play a game : to amuse oneself) to game-theory (game-theory : how to snatch a win in a situation of mutual conflict), the recognition that players' interests are in opposition to that of the institutions, the officials, the managements, the organisers, the sponsors and the advertisers is catching on. This is a first stroke in the play of resistance.

spectacle
On and outside the playing field, sports provide a spectacle to passive viewers denied play in their lives. This spectacle creates an illusion of life in tired bodies and in numbed minds and souls. It manufactures a sense of achievement and concocts icons in the service of nationalism, corporatism and individualism. 3

In their attempt to provide a spectacle, the police in Atlanta were on an year-long campaign to sweep the 55,000 homeless (conservative estimates) off the streets, in preparation for the 1996 Olympics. People were arrested on charges like walking through parking lots, sitting on kerbs, asking for money and sleeping in public.

crowd
The interface of the performance and the spectacle is the crowd. At the border-line between the playing and the non-playing fields, it is arranged around the arena in a tiered formation. The crowd is the most wanted entity and the most feared. The jeers and cheers create an atmosphere, attract the TV audience and spur the contestants - the crowd is indispensable for the organisers, the advertisers and the news-makers. But any crowd is unpredictable, there is no guarantee that it will behave, that it will follow the rules of the game. The crowd is a collective, and our times are irreconcilable with any collective. This promotes the heavy policing of the crowd, the researches into crowd control techniques and the projects on mob psychology.

The Samba of the Brazilian fans has been made a symbol of Brazilian nationalism, and the cameras love to focus on it. However, the police allows only the smallest drums inside stadia, lest the drummers get too big to handle !

Cultural commodities
Just to indicate a parallel between sports and other cultural commodities, we quote a few passages from an article in a film-magazine4 on the contribution of Alfred Hitchcock and the film Psycho in the process of creating a schooled and disciplined audience.

"... it transformed the previously casual act of going to the movies into a much more disciplined activity of arriving on time and waiting in an orderly line."
"... [the] demand that the audience arrive on time would eventually lead to the set show times, closely spaced screenings, elimination of cartoons and short subjects and patient waits in line that are now standard procedure."
"... But there was another trailer, not seen by the general public yet even more crucial in inculcating discipline into the audience. Called 'The Care and Handling of Psycho', this was not a preview but a filmed 'press book' teaching theatre managers how to exhibit the film and police the audience."
"... theatre audiences ... were a highly participatory and unruly lot, arriving late, leaving early, spitting tobacco, talking back to the actors, stamping feet and applauding promiscuously, they were gradually taught by the arbiters of culture to 'submit to creators and become mere instruments of their will, mere auditors of the productions of the artist."

  • 1. Walter Kerr quoted in S B Linder, op.cit.
  • 2. Barbara Adam, 'Timewatch : The Social Analysis of Time'. Polity Press 1995.
  • 3. See Guy Debord, 'The Society of the Spectacle'.
  • 4. Linda Williams, 'Learning to Scream' in Sight and Sound, December 1994, London.