When Keats talks about the “working brain” in one of his odes, he was pointing out, among other things, the physicality of mental work. The brain — like arms and legs, or vocal cords — is an organ of labour. So, the separation of mental work from physical labour is ultimately baseless. For instance, is the poet more idle than the peasant, and therefore more useless? How is ‘use’ to be quantified, and linked to the quantification of work? How would time and money figure in such measurements? And could such measurements, and the laws and policies based on them, ever be objective — free of value judgments, hidden biases and hierarchies? What kinds of economics would value poets more than peasants, and peasants more than poets — and could these different kinds of economic theory come together to produce a just and equal theory, practice and regulation of labour?
France is considering the enforcement of a law that would set limits on work emails and phone calls coming at all hours of the day. To maintain the country’s mandatory 11 hours of daily ‘rest’ time, the law would require employees to switch off, or not respond to, their ‘remote communication devices’ outside working hours, redefining industriousness (and intrusiveness) in the age of smart phones. So much of the regulation of paid work is about the colonization of employees’ time — inner and outer time. This happens so pervasively that it has become something that employers and employees do not notice any more, or pretend not to. Every advancement of communication technology feeds into this universal yet invisible mode of control. The politics of access — to the life, time and attention of employees, spouses or offspring — is what holds the key to the technological revolutions in connectivity. And to fall off the edge of that connecting grid becomes a mysterious and terrifying disaster — MH370. The wish to control the lives of others is at the core of both protection and productivity. Perhaps that is the hidden connection between love and work — the work of love, and the love of work — each aiming to sustain, and augment, a different kind of profit. Money complicates these equations, of course; although none of these forms of control can ever not be economic, in the narrowest as well as the broadest sense of the term.