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31 of 40 found the following review helpful:
Elsewhere, USA - A Painful Flash Of The Obvious ... Mar 09, 2009
By James A. Hatherley
To be fair, I read "Elsewhere, USA" twice before writing this not-so-positive review.
Let me begin by saying that I bought this book based on the cover caption, "How we got from the Company Man, Family Dinners and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, Blackberry moms and Exonomic Anxiety." The concept is so contemporary that I thought that the book would be very interesting - and it was, for approximately 66 pages (of 190) plus preface and introduction.
However, as is too typical of University professors like this author (see prior reviews of Gladwell/Pausch books), the topical discussion is too short for a salable book (think several classes out of a semester course), necessitating added chapters of quasi/non related filler material that fluff up the page count but do not add much to the dialogue of the author's primary concept. This is irritating.
Regarding the (d)evolution of the Company Man of the 1950's to today's hyper-connected 24/7 Company Person (gender neutral), all I can say is , "No Kidding!" Tell us something that we do not already know just by living/breathing/working/guilting and self-loathing in 2009! The important question from a sociological perspective, however, is where is this all headed? The author purposely proposes no solutions.
In essence, then, "Elsewhere, USA" is a blinding, if not painful, flash of the obvious, without sufficient forward looking analytics.
This is not to say that the author does not make some good and interesting points about the current culture. For instance, one thing that is very interesting about "Elsewhere" is the confirmation that most motivated professionals now disdain leisure as a priority goal (as contrasted with their 1959 counterparts). In fact, work and leisure have merged into a discordant alliance ("weisure") during which time everyone in Elsewhere, USA is instantly accessible on-line. Worse, however, there has grown an alarming insecurity regarding the status of their employment among Elsewhere professionals who fear that their lack of value in a product-less service society will be discovered while they are away. Such a discovery would be a financial disaster. The answer - never be "away", or at least far away from your phone and blackberry.
In Elsewhere, therefore, work is a 24/7 marathon. The fun things are quickly dismissed because the cost of life-related events can easily be offset by working longer - or simply to escape the duties/rigors of homelife. Play catch with a child? Pick them up after school? Heck no - non work activities take time, and time is money. It has become easier to rationalize hiring people to provide the time and services at a lower rate of pay, while continuing to earn the money to support (and complain about) these added costs. It's easy to understand the rationalization since "Elsewhere" professionals are quick to note that their days are long and stressful - not dissimilar from hamsters - connected to their blackberry until midnight, catching up with their overnight mail at 5am before breakfast, and resuming their daily grind before 7am.
But, don't we know this already?
And, what is happening to the family in Elsewhere, USA? Sadly, perhaps nothing - since the kids are also wired to their ipods as they text to their friends and cruise the internet, while nodding occasionally in the direction of the designated parent of the night, who feigns interest while working their own devices. But what does this mean for the next generation of "Elsewhere" children?
"Elsewhere's" best points are sociologically disturbing. They concern the growth of (economic) class inequality that has dramatically increased in the past generation. High earning men and high earning women are finding one another with increasing efficiency - thereby expanding their combined personal wealth (even as they insatiably envy the wealth of those "above them"). Increasing wealth is their aspirational orange juice. This growing inequality, posits Conley, is what makes it all work - primarily by re-instituting a form of [n.b.: my words, not the author's] serfdom, indentured servitude - e.g., economic slavery - in Elsewhere, USA. Higher earners outsource the care and tender of their children, food preparation, home care of grandparents, personal trainers, music lessons, tutors, personal shoppers, gardeners - you name it - to low paid service people. It's a mutually synergistic trickle down economy, lorded over by the haves and depended on by the have nots who are busily preparing the food and catering to the children of those with the means, while ignoring their own families. It's a metaphorically new plantation economy - Elsewhere-style.
Is this a good thing? Hardly, but at least these job dependencies cannot be outsourced to India. But, is this what we want in "Everywhere", USA? It certainly seems to be headed that way.
One can only wonder if Norman Rockwell would have adapted his illustrations of family and culture had he lived in Elsewhere, USA in 2009. If he did, the colors would doubtless be darker, the people shallower, and the images blurrier. It's hard to imagine Elsewhere 's characters being reproduced on boxes of Corn Flakes, unless of course there was an illustration of the artist looking into his headsetted reflection on a computer screen with a blackberry in one hand and a cell phone in the other.
All that remains to be asked about Elsewhere, USA is : if your Blackberry rings at midnight, does it make a noise?
8 of 9 found the following review helpful:
a mirror to life as dual income professionals Feb 01, 2009
By Joshua Kim
"mostly nonfiction listener"
This book may have well been special ordered to help my family understand our lives and struggles. Conley and I seem to share more then a few things, born in 1969, degrees in sociology, 2 school age children, and married to high achieving professional women. We also seem to share a love for our work and a wonder about how the line between work and family has blurred (as I sit here Sunday evening with my laptop pecking out book reviews while my girls dance around me). The premise of Elsewhere USA is that highly educated professionals (particularly those of us raising kids or taking care of dependents) are defined by gifts and obligations inherent in the tension between nurturing careers and nurturing our families. We love our work, but since we deal in concepts, knowledge and persuasion it is not always clear if produce anything solid. Therefore, we are spurned to work more, in order to justify to others our value and to accrue the knowledge and social capital necessary to insure mobility in the knowledge economy. Nights and weekends are spent one eye on the laptop, one-eye on the kids, never quite being totally focussed on either but keeping both going. Separating work and family is increasingly unrealistic, as both spheres demand time and energy in bursts or at unpredictable times, and neither can be "put aside" to focus on any single demand. Conley's recommendation is to give up worrying about role conflict, and embrace the duality and dynamism of a hybrid work/family life. Once the laptop has been opened it cannot be shut (and really - who would want to as it brings such interesting information and networks). Besides, this is the world our kids will live in as well....and it is through watching how we handle the juggle that they will learn to be flexible and hopefully find work that is their passion (as they will do so much of it in their lives).
7 of 8 found the following review helpful:
What led to our current aggregate economic anxiety? [Penned before the recent market crash] Feb 01, 2009
By J. M. Gorman
Preface: This book was penned before the recent market crash.
Clay Shirky's 'Here Comes Everybody' was the best book that I read in 2008. Dalton Conley's 'Elsewhere, U.S.A.' may prove to be the best book that I read in 2009. [And it's only February 1st!] [Interestingly enough, both Clay Shirky and Dalton Conley are both affiliated with NYU.]
The two central questions that Dalton Conley raises and attempts to answer are these:
- When Mr. 1959 (depicted in William Whyte's 'Organization Man') attained a dignified level of professional success (i.e. established one's own dentistry practice, become a vice-president at a tire company, etc.), he often parlayed the accompanying level of income and wealth into more leisure time for he and his family.
- Whereas when Mr. (or increasingly Mrs.) 2009 attains a comparable level of professional success (i.e. rises to the rank of marketing executive for a multinational corporation, joins a prestigious law firm, etc), he (or she) increasingly does *not* parlay the accompanying level of wealth into more leisure time. Instead, he or she winds up working more hours with more economic anxiety.
- How and why did this happen?
- What are the ramifications of this change?
Throughout, Conley asserts that it was not one thing, but many that led us to this economic reality:
Here are just a few:
- Rising economic inequality between high and low wage earners, and self-imposed pressure to "keep up with the Joneses" in a post-materialist society.
- Technology that enables a 24x7 work week.
- Females earning more and remaining in the work force for longer spans of time.
- A lower marginal income tax rate for the top bracket.
- A greater recognition of the opportunity cost associated with "not working".
At the book's conclusion, Conley cautions the reader that it would be unproductive to use one's entire energy to rally against our new reality. In fact, Conley never labels the new reality as universally bad. Instead, he urges the reader to recognize the tradeoffs between what once was and is today.
3 of 3 found the following review helpful:
a home run Mar 06, 2009
By C. P. Anderson
I was really impressed by the number of insights in this book. They seem to flow one after another. Conley really seems to have a knack for identifying issues; coming up with convincing, deep, and insightful explanations for them; and tying the issues together. And all of this is done with some real passion and skill for writing.
It's important to note that this book is actually a lot more wide-ranging than what's implied on the dust jacket. It's really not just about busyness, multi-tasking, and a general lack of attentiveness. It's much more about how totally the market has penetrated our society (with the busyness simply a symptom of that). In fact, with that in mind, the book really does a good job of summarizing what's wrong with our society these days. In that regard, you might compare it with Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium.
Unfortunately, like Why We Hate Us, the book does go off the rails at points. As an example, the author devotes most of a chapter on crime to his personal experiences growing up in 70s New York City. He tries to tie this to ideas about a declining crime rate and a change to a service and knowledge economy, but it's really rather forced and tacked-on.
That's okay though. Passions and intuitive insights can often be hit or miss. In fact, Conley noted that he was trying to hit a home run with this book (but worried about striking out too). I'd say that, over the course of the game, he did whiff a couple of times, but he also hit a couple of 3-run dingers too.
2 of 2 found the following review helpful:
Firmly Grasping the Obvious While Bemoaning the Choices of the Uber Wealthy Jan 17, 2010
By Tim Warneka
"Leadership Expert, Keynote Speaker, Author -BLACK BELT LEADER, PEACEFUL LEADER: AN INTRODUCTION TO CATHOLIC SERVANT LEADERSHIP"
(NOTE: This is a review of the audio book version)
The author of this book has a firm grasp on the obvious.
I basically agree with the review written by Mr. James A. Hatherley (this, even given the fact that -- based on his reviews -- Mr. Hatherley and I appear to be on opposite ends of the political spectrum.), although I rate the book lower than Mr. Hatherley does.
Throughout this book, the author clearly points out the obvious, but offers little in solutions. Furthermore, his arguments are not very logical in structure.
To be fair, the author's first few chapters were interesting in how he compared several generations' work history.
It is difficult to hear of the struggles of people who are making hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary (the class of which to whom the author and his spouse apparently belong) while there is a significant rate of unemployment in the U.S. currently. People -- rich and poor -- still have the ability to make choices.
Overall, this book would have been better edited down to the size of a magazine article. That's about all the meat it contains.
I would recommend avoiding this book.
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