Busy, Busy, Busy: The Modern Status Symbol

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Can you remember the last time you responded to the question “How was your weekend?” with “Oh, really quiet. We just relaxed and laid low.”

 

If you can, you have clearly mastered the art of work/life balance (or your whole family had the flu, one of the two.)

 

But most likely you said something to the effect of “Crazy busy. Soccer and football games, work, three birthday parties and friends over. It was nuts.”

 

According to researchers, this is our new American status symbol: busyness.

 

Our view of social status has changed over the past years.

 

120 years ago, during the Gilded Age, Sociologist Thorstein Veblen coined the term “conspicuous consumption.” He used it to refer to rich people flaunting their wealth through wasteful spending. The rich asserted their dominance by showing how much money they could burn on things they didn’t need.

 

In the middle of the century, vacationing became a symbol of wealth. Time off of work to rest and relax with your family was the goal. Bonus points if it was to your own vacation home.

 

Fast forward to the  80’s, where “bigger is better” became the mantra. Bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger hair (oi vey, the hair). Bigger = more money.

 

There’s even been a shift in this current decade when it comes to status—kids. Five or ten years ago, there was a huge trend in viewing more children in the household as the ultimate status symbol, due to the increased cost of parenting in this county.

 

Today, it seems pretty clear what our country values most in terms of status: busy, busy, busy.

 

We shifted from “conspicuous consumption”, which worships luxury to “conspicuous production”, which worships labor. It isn’t about how much you spend; it’s about how hard you work.

 

You can clearly see conspicuous production among America’s CEOs. Apple CEO Tim Cook begins his day at 3.45am and starts emailing employees at 4:30am. Former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer routinely pulled all-nighters and worked 130-hour weeks while at Google (sleeping under her desk for those precious few hours). She then infamously took two weeks of maternity leave after the birth of her twins. And Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, who worked the graveyard shift as a receptionist while putting herself through Yale, now wakes at 4 a.m. and often works until midnight.

 

“If you’re not busy, you’re not seen as being important.” Call to Career founder Cheryl Palmer says. “In many workplaces there is a push to appear busy all the time” with the issue being ‘not so much how much you actually produce’ but ‘that you have many irons in the fire — or at least appear to.’”

 

Now, I realize I’m sounding judgy, and that’s not my intention. Every worker/parent needs to decide what’s right for them. That said, those at the very top do set the tone of the company, and for most American’s, what’s right for us isn’t so much of a choice but a necessity.

 

When we’re busy but because someone else is forcing us to be busy, that’s a weaker status symbol. In other words, when you flash this “busy, busy, busy” status, it’s important to let people know not only that you’re very busy but that you, yourself have chosen to be busy.

 

Which leads me to Pogo (don’t all roads lead to Pogo?)

 

We’ve seen patterns over the past year that back up the busy theory. Here are a couple of our early ads:

 

and

 

 

What we’ve discovered is that parents don’t always want those extra hours to work, exercise or relax.

 

I knowit sounds crazy.

 

But “people dread idleness, and their professed reasons for activity may be mere justifications for keeping busy,” according to University of Chicago professor of behavioral science and marketing Christopher Hsee.

 

Combine that with the way society values being a parent—no payment or professional recognition for the most important job on earth—and this all makes sense.

 

It especially makes sense to me right now.

 

My family just moved from Seattle to Dallas which meant a new home, new job for my husband, new school for the kids, new everything. I’m still working remotely for Pogo, but remove a previous commute and not having to shuttle the kids to school and from school anymore (hubby does that now) and I’m left with a lot of extra time on my hands. Six months ago this would have been a dream come true. Life did feel constantly crazy. I had little time with my kids and too many commitments. But now, our weekends truly are relaxed and quiet.

 

And how do I feel about this? Well, honestly, I’m kinda bored. A part of me misses the “busy, busy, busy” because, “what’s my value if I’m not busy?”

 

So the times that I do take the kids to/from school, or drive to soccer practice, or bring a new friend home with us for a playdate, I love it. Do I want someone to cut into this time by carpooling with me? Sometimes, but not often.

 

This is not meant to talk you out of carpooling—quite the contrary. It’s to say that as parents, we’re at different points in our lives at different times. Two months from now when our third child is born (trust me, not a status symbol decision), I’ll be so thankful for the help of other parents driving our older kids where they need to go. And today, I’m sure there are parents in their busy season of work or going through a hard time and need the extra help. It makes my day to be able to do this for them.

 

So that’s what we’re trying to do at Pogo—connect the two groups together. Balancing out the “busyness” and adding a little more R&R into our users lives.

 

I’d also love it if we could make a societal shift in the “busy, busy, busy” department, as I’ve discovered that reading on the couch followed by a little nap is actually freaking wonderful. But, that mission will likely take a little longer. So for now, we’ll simply tackle the art of carpooling.

 

Happy carpooling (and nap time!)

 

—Julia

 

 

 

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