Ad Infinitum I am nothing but a patient man.

20Jan/130

One Giant Leap

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I’m constantly trying to think of ideas for sci-fi novels and when contemplating that it often devolves into thoughts of the future.  What will our future technology be?  What will our future clothes look like?  Will the human race still be confined to earth?  So much thought goes into the atmosphere of the future (atmosphere here meaning, mainly, appearances).  There is also a lot of thought given to society and how we’d function in the future.  One thing that I feel is lacking in our futuristic imagination is the duration of our work week!  What would a future look like if we had anything other than a 7-day week?

The historical context of our current 7-day week is fairly obvious.  It comes from the religious idea that God created the world in 7 days.  Six days for creation and one day for rest.  Everything that we do revolves around this cycle.  Now as a biologist studying circadian rhythms, I’m fascinated with the rhythms and cycles that govern how we live and function.  What is it about the 7-day cycle that is so ingrained in us that I’ve never heard a conversation about its alteration?  I’ve heard plenty of talk about what do with the hours in the day.  Schools, for instance, have tinkered with changing the scheduling of classes switching over to the “block” scheduling that gives students longer time in each class and then they don’t have every class every day.  So what would happen if we lengthened the duration of a week?  Let’s start small.  Say we increased the “week” to 8 days and made 6 “work” days and kept just 2 “weekend” days.  If we did this, and kept the same average number of hours people worked per day, I’m guessing there would be an incredible uproar.  But what if we decreased the number of hours that you had to work each day?  Would that make it more tolerable?

Incredibly (well, slightly) the French have tried changing to duration of a work week!  After the French Revolution, they tried to separate all aspects of religion from their societal workings.  Obviously the 7 day work week fell into a religious-inspired custom and so they sought to change it (see French Republican Calendar).  But I think they went too far.  They upped the duration of a work week to 10 days and kept only one day for “rest”.  They also did several other radical things such as changing the definitions/durations of an hour, minute, and even second.  One problem with their approach was that they were a single entity (country) trying to do this.  While they were operating on this new schedule, the rest of the world still had a 7 day week.  They even had a hard time organizing commerce between themselves and their colonies in different areas.  So one thing we can learn from this is that if we were to try and make a change like this, it would have to be a world-wide change.  We’re so interconnected today that everyone everywhere would need to operate under this new system.

I suppose I’m coming at this from a somewhat unique position.  I’m in graduate school and I’ve really never taken a break from schooling.  Some would say I’ve never had a real job though I think those people don’t really understand what goes on in a graduate school in the sciences.  I’ll admit though, the 9-5 work day is foreign to me.  It is not uncommon for me to work 12 or even 14 days straight.  But I set my own schedule.  I plan out experiments and do them when and however long is needed.  And I enjoy what I do!  What would happen to someone who was forced to work even more consecutive days at a job they don’t like?  And I’ve really only experienced life in the sciences.  What do other people think?  How would people in other disciplines react to something like this?  It’s an interesting thought experiment.  But to put it into reality would require quite the leap by all of us I would imagine.

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