The Christmas break is ending – or has already ended for some– and after wishing happy new year, the inevitable question comes up: Did you have a good vacation? The question implies that what did you do during the holiday was different from your usual routine. Having “time “off” assumes you can profit during that period to do that which is not possible during the normal school/work time frame.
Like most binary distinctions, differences between work and play or routine and vacation do not always hold up to scrutiny. They suggest that work is drudgery and routines boring as well extolling the virtues of play and vacations. Is it possible that work could be interesting and our routines satisfying, or that play could not be fun and that vacations can be stressful?
To be on vacation is leave something with which one is previously occupied. Dictionary synonyms include: quitting, evacuation, abandonment, desertion, relinquishment. There is a clear sense that during a vacation one is trying to get away from something.
But what if one does not want to get away? What if the notion of work and routine are satisfying and enriching? The image of Charlie Chaplin frantically trying to tighten bolts on a fast-moving assembly line convey the Industrial Revolution’s concept of man being a prisoner to machines. This may have been true at a certain time in history, but the technological revolution we are living through has allowed robots to do much of what was previously mechanical drudgery. Machines have freed us to be more creative.
A computer allows us to be even freer. A friend recently showed me how he takes notes from literature to prepare for writing articles and books. Instead of copying notes from a text by longhand and then filing them as note cards, he uses an electronic scanner that copies the texts for him. Going from writing by hand to using computers and more sophisticated devices are just simple examples of how technological progress has reduced mechanical routines and allowed us to have more time to be creative, the essence of what it means to be human.
From the Agricultural to the Industrial to the Scientific Age, people have been freed to be able to perform non-menial tasks. That does not mean that robots will replace all that we are required to do and to have. There are limits on the capacities of algorithms and artificial intelligence. Nor does it mean that what we do now is not stressful. Calculations have been made that primitive farmers had more free time than many of today’s high-tech wizards. Early Homo Sapiens did not have to deal with 24/7 emails, WhatsApp, Twitter, etc., or being telephoned in the middle of the night by someone in a different time zone. (Then again, we have less to worry about being eaten by a Mammoth or bitten by a poisonous snake. There is no free supper.)
So, when someone asks you if you had a good vacation, I hope that you will answer: “Yes, I had a very good vacation, but I am also pleased to get back to what I do normally since I find my daily life engaging and enriching. Vacations are fine, but I feel no necessity to escape.”