Posts Tagged ‘NPR#8217;


As heard on

Alain de Botton is the author of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work.

If a Martian came to Earth and tried to understand what human beings do just from reading most literature published today, he would come away with the extraordinary impression that we basically spend our time falling in love, squabbling with our families, and occasionally murdering one another. But of course, what we really do is go to work — and yet this "work" is unseen; it is literally invisible, and it is so in part because it is rarely represented in art. If it does appear in consciousness, it does so via the business pages of newspapers, it does so as an economic phenomenon, rather than as a broader human phenomenon.

Two centuries ago, our forebears would have known the precise history and source of almost every one of the limited number of things they ate and owned. They would have been familiar with the pig, the carpenter, the weaver, the loom and the dairymaid. The range of items available for purchase may have grown exponentially since then, but our understanding of their genesis has grown ever more obscure. We are now as imaginatively disconnected from the production and distribution of our goods as we are practically in reach of them, a process of alienation which has stripped us of opportunities for wonder, gratitude and guilt.

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