Twitter has lately been awash in ads. I don't mean the normal annoying ads, the ones promoting the latest Disney movie or some upcoming tech conference. I mean a more insidious kind of ad. The kind of ad that strives to steal your time. Ads like this:
On the surface, this little advertisement seems like no big deal: a woman who loves her job was still doing it at nine months pregnant. That kind of tenacity, that dedication to their job, should be celebrated, even revered. Right?
In light of the recent Uber scandals, all its competitor Lyft really needs to do is not screw up and they'll look like an angel by comparison. I don't think this accomplishes that objective.
What does Lyft want us to think after we read this ad? What exactly are we celebrating here? Or, rather, who or what is telling us we should be celebrating?
By releasing this ad into the wilds of Twitter, Lyft simultaneously wants us, its consumers, to revere people like Mary and to aspire to be like them. To do what they did. After all, it's people like this, people with outstanding dedication to their job, that get lauded, that get praise and raises and fame and fortune, so these companies would like us to believe.
But we have a right, even a duty, to think for ourselves. And we can think: are those really the people we want to emulate? To be?
They Want Zealots
Here's a slightly more egregious example, from the new Apple podcast
Planet of the Apps:
There are conflicting reports as to whether Andrew Kemendo actually said this, but it doesn't matter since he, like Mary, is not the bad guy here. It's his life. But why the hell is Apple celebrating this ideology, this insidious thought that in order to succeed, in order to make a product that sells wildly, in order to land an interview on a "prestigious" podcast, you need to give up time with your family. Who wins in that situation? You don't. Your family doesn't.
You know who wins? The companies themselves.
These ads aren't targeted at me. I'm entrenched at my current company, happy with my job and with the work culture. Lyft and Apple aren't trying to get at me. They're trying to recruit the new grads, the ones who hunger for something more, the ones who know that working hard always yields success.
Those companies don't want workers; they want zealots. They want the true believers, the ones that think they're only a step away from greatness, the ones who look at the huge fancy corporate campuses and yearn for a better life, even if that means voluntarily giving up your time in the process. They want the ones who are willing to surrender time for money and glory.
I'm an American, and I hate this part of our culture. The cult of overwork has grown so large and so entrenched that regular people now look up to people that willingly exchange their time for money. I've overheard people at the tech conferences I've attended comparing amount of time slept at night. "I only got five hours last night." "Must be nice, I only got three." It's asinine, this pervasive thought that less sleep and more work equals more dedication. Yet these people are the ones we're supposed to look up to. Why?
Time vs Money
These companies, Lyft and Apple and the like, want us to believe in the acclaim that working long hours will bring. They want us to buy what they're selling: that the way to succeed at life is to work long hours, neglect your family, furiously build that app you've been dreaming of and eventually strike it rich, all while putting in tons of hours and getting little sleep. It's the classic trade-off of time for money, and who doesn't want more money?
These companies take your time, use it up, and throw it away. Sure, they pay you and pay well, but does that make up for the time you lost? None of us are getting out of this alive. How much do you want to work before your time is up?
These ads and these companies are perpetuating a toxic glorification of working hard. Let's be clear: hard work itself is not the problem; the idea that the only way to win at life is to work hard and for a long time is the real issue. These companies keep putting that line of thinking out there, and the only ones that benefit from it are themselves. I hate to be cliche (and so I immediately will be) but no one ever lies on their death bed wishing they'd worked more.
But the final decision is not mine to make. It's yours. How will you spend your time?
As for me? While the zealots are hard at work making the "next big thing", I'll be at home, playing Zelda with my boys, having tea parties with my daughter, reading Harry Potter to all three kids at night, binging Orange is the New Black with my wife, and generally remembering that I only have a limited amount of time in this world and I want to spend it at home, with my family. That's how I'll use my given time, and to me, that'll be time well spent.
Here's hoping we all get the time we need.