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No More Silence About Work

January 21, 2000
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Have you noticed how little work characters in most television series actually do? Oh, I know the doctors on "ER" save their share of patients, the cops on "Law and Order" investigate crimes and the White House staff in "The West Wing" respond to issues of national importance. But I'm talking about the average show. Work is a secondary concern, and when characters are at work they're far too concerned with cracking wise and pursuing office romance to actually be productive.

True, television programs are intended at least theoretically to entertain. But they've also become a sort of national water cooler, where characters we know and like talk about the things that interest and concern us. Most of the really important social issues of our time single parenthood, the impact of divorce, AIDS and more have been explored, at least superficially, on TV.

But work where most of us spend more than eight hours of every weekday is rarely discussed. There's no real exploration of the struggle to balance the demands of work and family, of the fact that new technology makes it harder to get away from work, or of the fear and confusion borne of the escalating pace of change we all experience.

And it's not only entertainment programs that largely ignore such issues. Talk shows are usually more concerned with adultery and weight loss, and the evening news is more likely to give us a steady diet of crime and weather than a meaningful dialogue about how we spend our lives and earn our living.

My wish for the new year is that there be more discussion about work in the months and years ahead. The pace of change we all experienced in the '90s is nothing compared to the rate of change we face in the decade ahead.

It may be unfair to single out television, because the print media for the most part doesn't do a much better job. Yes, some magazines (Working Woman, Fortune and Fast Company come to mind) talk about work issues with some regularity. But the average daily newspaper does not.

My point is that there's very little national dialogue about the topic that, for most people, is second only to family relationships in terms of its impact on our daily lives. I imagine that editors and producers would tell me that such content doesn't sell, and they may be right.

But I also suspect that there's less work-focused content than there might otherwise be because it is a tough topic in which the "answers" are far from clear.

Still, my wish for the new year is that there be more discussion about work in the months and years ahead. The pace of change we all experienced in the '90s is nothing compared to the rate of change we face in the decade ahead. Almost every facet of when, where, what, why and how of work will change. Ignoring it will not make it easier, and none of us alone is going to figure out how to adapt.

Recent Articles by Allan Halcrow

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