Has hard work gone the way of the Dodo bird?

When I was growing up hard work was the accepted norm. From the age of eleven I have been working with by first experience of hard work being that of working on a dairy farm every summer and much of the winter on the weekends. Slugging bales of hay that could weigh more than I did at the time was hard work. Cleaning out calf pens in the spring from a winter of them being in a 10×10 pen was hard work.

As I got older my work history was one of delivering furniture, managing warehouses and hot tar roofing. That was hard work and much of my generation believed the same as I did – you got ahead in life by working hard. That was our ethos that we were raised with. It was the same with our parents and their parents. Working hard got you the good things in life and was something to be proud of.

Even the early days of the computerized workspace was built around hard work. We didn’t have the advantage of mass produced software products with much of what we used the machines for we had to program into them. The paperless office ended up being nothing more than a pipedream as we struggled to come to terms with how our work was changing.

The fact is that as the information age has become the driving force of our world our ideas of what hard work is has changed. Whether the change is for the better or not is open to debate but the fact is that the hard work ethic of even my generation is disappearing. In its place we are finding ourselves dealing more and more with having to manage our distractions. As Mike Elgan wrote a couple of days ago at IT Management

Distractions mask the toll they take on productivity. Everyone finishes up their work days exhausted, but how much of that exhaustion is from real work, how much from the mental effort of fighting off distractions and how much from the indulgence of distractions?

Pundits like me are constantly talking about Facebook, Twitter, blogs and humor sites, not to mention old standbys like e-mail and IM. One gets the impression that we should be “following” these things all day long, and many do. So when does the work get done? When do entrepreneurs start and manage their businesses? When do writers write that novel? When to IT professionals keep the trains running on time? When does anyone do anything?

The need for “attention,” rather than “hard work,” as the centerpiece of the new work ethic has arisen along with the rise of distractions carried on the wings of Internet protocol. In one generation, we’ve gone from a total separation of “work” from “non-work” to one in which both work and play are always sitting right in front of us.

I know from my experience as a blogger writing about this new age of distraction that it is all around us.It is also getting worse with each day that goes by and more people become sucked into the black vortex of being a part of the cool web. From Twitter to Facebook and every social media service in between it is all about being a part of some ever growing conversation. Where once we may only have had to deal with the distractions of things like email and instant messaging we are faced with a deluge of never ending messages. Some are important and others are just the nattering of a 1,000 monkeys used to fill up every nanosecond of our attention.

In some ways I’m pretty lucky in that being a blogger much of these distractions are an integral part of my work but I’ve never stopped wondering as I have seen tweets go by and links posted on FriendFeed – when are people getting any actual work done. It doesn’t matter what social media service you look at there are always people talking.

I’ve also noticed this change of work ethic among the newer generations – especially in the tech sector.For this generation it is all about managing distractions and the expectation that everything will come to them as long as they are a part of the conversation. No more is it about hard work as it is as much about making your presence known everywhere possible. sure a lot will say that they put in long hours of working but long hours doesn’t always equate to hard work – especially in this day and age of distractions.

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