In a recent article written for Slate, journalist Dan Kois recounts the shock his younger coworkers expressed when they discovered that he had, earlier in his career, earned a master’s degree while working a full-time job. “It was easy,” he explained:
“I worked at a literary agency during the day, I got off work at 5 p.m., and I studied at night. The key was that this was just after the turn of the millennium. ‘But what would you do when you had work emails?’ these coworkers asked. ‘I didn’t get work emails,’ I said. ‘I barely had the internet in my apartment.'”
In his article, Kois goes on to interview other members of Generation X about their lives in the early 2000s, before the arrival of smartphones or even widely available internet. They shared tales of coming home and just watching whatever show happened to be on TV (maybe “Seventh Heaven,” or “Law and Order”). They also talked about going to the movies on a random weekday evening because they had nothing else to do, or just heading to a bar where they hoped to run into friends, and often would.
The threads that kept catching my attention, however, were about work communication. “The very idea that, once work hours were over, no one could get hold of you—via email, text, Slack, whatever—is completely alien to contemporary young people,” Kois explained. But this reality made a huge difference when it came to the perception of busyness and exhaustion. When work was done at work, and there was no chance of continuing your labors at home, your job didn’t seem nearly as all-consuming or onerous .
There’s a lot about early 2000s culture I’m not eager to excavate, but this idea of the constrained workday certainly seems worthy of nostalgia.