In 1969, I dropped out of college and drove to San Francisco with my boyfriend in a wheezy Ford Falcon to join thousands of other bell-bottomed post-adolescents hanging out in Golden Gate Park and the streets around Haight-Ashbury. It was easy enough to tell what these people stood for, but impossible to know how they made a living. Rejecting what they viewed as the soul-killing demands of bourgeois life, they were there not to work but to play, to seek what Hillary Clinton called, in her now-famous Wellesley graduation speech that year, "more immediate, ecstatic, penetrating modes of living." My boyfriend and I were no different. We shared the same career aspirations—which is to say, none. To put food in our mouths, he would take a temporary teaching job, though he thought that driving a cab sounded cool; maybe I would get a job in a store. We weren't worried: rents were cheap, we were young, we had a safety net in the form of suburban parents, and heads swimming with the utopian dreams of our generation.
To go to San Francisco today is to be struck with a weird kind of déjà vu: hordes of the idealistic young, acutely conscious of being part of a revolution that their elders only dimly understand, still dominate the city. But there the resemblance with the youthquake of 30 years ago ends. These Banana Republic-clad revolutionaries work like immigrants. They talk of nothing but work; they spend 10, 12, 14 hours, or even more at work; they dream of work.
Pragmatists would explain their zeal by skyrocketing rent and real-estate costs; cynics would say the crass materialism long threatening to overwhelm the American spirit has finally triumphed. Although both of these explanations have some truth, neither tells the whole story. For to hear them talk, these young men and women also love the risk, the intensity, the speed, the camaraderie, even what they sometimes call the "soulfulness" of work in the new economy. In the late sixties, our idea of the wind through our hair was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; theirs is Fast Company ("More than a Magazine—It's a Movement!"). Our notion of scenery was Big Sur and the hills of fragrant eucalyptus; theirs is the office park. Our idea of a drug was hashish; theirs is Café Grande. In short, if our religion was Peace and Love, theirs is Ecstatic Capitalism.
Make no mistake though: ecstatic capitalism is no mere local or generational phenomenon. Yes, its Rome is San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and its prophets are largely under 30, but its followers are everywhere and include everyone from recent entrants to the AARP to college kids to (amazingly) preschoolers. True, not everyone is as fervent as the young crusaders of the high-tech sector. But it's pretty clear that while Americans are deeply divided over many of the cultural values that they once took for granted, just about everyone embraces a high-energy, high-spirited new work ethic.
Increasingly, we view work not just as a way to pay the rent and the orthodontist but as an end in itself. We expect work to offer excitement or "serious fun," as the editors of Fast Company put it; we seek in work both individual meaning and community in a way that defies not just the countercultural expectations of 30 years ago but much of our philosophical and intellectual tradition. And yet, this hardly means that utopia is on its way. The costs of this unexpected transformation in the national psyche may be subtle, but they are a bit disquieting nonetheless.
If you want to see ecstatic capitalism in its purest form, visit a place like Sparks.com, a young start-up company selling greeting cards over the Internet. Sparks occupies a cavernous warehouse in San Francisco's India Basin, far from the city's sophisticated cafés and shops, beyond even the train tracks at its edges. Inside the warehouse, you find a cross between a college dorm and a campaign war room. Each employee sits at a plank of wood on two sawhorses, individually decorated with company-supplied paint. An amateurish mural showing the joyous smiles of pleasure caused by a Sparks greeting card takes up one wall. The "conference room's" shag rug and bright yellow and orange beanbag chairs, along with the warehouse's foosball table and basketball court, further confound all conventional notions of "workplace."
As the ponytailed Chief Technical Officer skateboards through the aisles in his workshirt and sneakers, young engineers in T-shirts consult with one another, ignoring the blaring rock music and the occasional dog sniffing at their feet. They also have to shout over the sound of the hammers and drills of workmen who, following the request of Sparks's employees, are installing a giant sliding board and fire pole between the new loft and ground floor. On Friday afternoons, the group has barbecues; in October, pumpkin-decorating parties. A "corporate massage therapist" visits regularly.
This playful exuberance coexists with a zealous work ethic. Allison Behr, the 29-year-old public-relations director who is showing me around, tells me that she works 11 hours a day, except during the weeks near the Christmas rush, when everyone at Sparks burns the midnight oil. In her world, this is no oddity—area legend has it that when a 24-year-old Netscape programmer told a survey company that he worked between 110 and 120 hours per week, the researcher objected that his computerized questionnaire wouldn't accept a number that big. Allison has no complaints. Yes, she has to do her grocery shopping at 10 PM, but "it's a good time to shop, because it isn't crowded." Beyond that, Allison says, "I don't do a lot of errands because I'm having too much fun with my co-workers." The spirit of camaraderie is ever present: "You rarely see people here doing anything alone," she reports. Like many ecstatic capitalists, Allison is partial to the word "soul": "It's important to us that we do things that are soulful." "Our hearts and souls and guts go into this." "Sparks is a company with soul."
Sparks perfectly captures ecstatic capitalism's major themes—the long hours, the blurring between work and play, the youthful energy and intensity, the sense of both individual meaning and recovered community in a fragmented world. Observers of the dot.com scene have been noting all this for close to a decade, but now this redefined work ethic is colonizing adjacent sectors of the new economy. Knowledge workers in all fields are working like mad, as are young singles in general: the Families and Work Institute found that 73 percent of today's 25- to 32-year-olds work more than 40 hours per week, compared with 55 percent in 1977. And Arlie Hochschild reports in The Time Bind that when a Fortune 500 company offered workers ways to cut back their hours, the employees—and especially women with children—rarely took advantage of them.
Work now spreads out of the cubicle and oozes into just about every corner of our lives. Recently, Fast Company profiled Steelcase, a giant office-furniture manufacturer in Grand Rapids, Michigan, seemingly light years away from the 24/7 digerati outfits in Redwood City or Austin. Yet Steelcase shows dramatically how completely the new-economy ethos is being grafted onto old-economy businesses. Christine Albertini, vice president and general manager, describes habits that make an official category like "working hours" seem quaint: "I work in the car, home, office, airplane, hotel room, on the street corner," she says. "I work at volleyball practice, hockey games, gymnastics," seconds her marketing communications manager.
In this spirit, Steelcase is expanding the entire notion of office furniture. "Their job," reports Fast Company, "is to figure out how to furnish the whole world so you can work in it, effortlessly, seamlessly, continuously"—something that any recent traveler can attest has already happened. Airports are outfitted with computer connections, fax machines, and work stations; planes and trains are simply cubicles that happen to be speeding through cumulus clouds and fields of green while you make business calls and work your spreadsheet. And when you arrive at even the most alluring destination, you simply settle into another office away from the office. Marriott hotels have installed more than 20,000 "Rooms that Work" with special desks, phone jacks, ergonomic chairs, and around-the-room Internet access. Hyatt hotels now offer "Plug and Play" Internet access to their customers.
So why aren't American workers rising up and storming the CEO offices at the prospect of what Netscape programmers once dubbed "all work, all the time?" A 30-year-old quoted in Fortune explains: "Work is not work. It's a hobby you happen to get paid for." Knowledge work satisfies human longings in a way that factory or traditional corporate work rarely could. It requires thinking and creativity. New management theories stressing the autonomy of individual employees have softened the coercive, hierarchical nature of work. Many Americans now expect their job to feel as if it were an emanation of their own desires and on their own time.
In fact, our jobs define our identity. In France and England, it's bad form to ask, "What do you do?" Such a rule would leave Americans speechless. In the U.S., you are what you do. Management guru Tom Peters has even written a book entitled The Brand Called You, in which he urges workers to imagine themselves as the company and the product. "You are CEO of Me Inc.," he writes. "[T]o grow your brand you've got to come to terms with power—your own."
This Nietzsche-in-the-cubicle philosophy has a spiritual side that appears to be especially appealing to Gen-Xers. "Our generation has a spiritual void in the space previously filled by religion or patriotism," the young editor of Silicon Alley Reporter writes. "[L]ifelong learning and self-development will become our generation's new religion."
It's in the more innovative sectors of the new economy that work has taken on the most existential quality, the naked self realizing itself in a test against the elements. Tom Ashbrook's memoir The Leap, a title combining athleticism and faith, is a good example of what we might call X-treme work. Nearing 40, a happily married suburban father of three, a writer and editor at the Boston Globe, Ashbrook nevertheless felt himself "a hungry soul." But if midlife crises led men of a previous generation to love affairs or sports cars, Ashbrook looked to the new economy to awaken his deadened spirit: he decided to start an Internet company.
Like an athlete, he gives up coffee in order to seek "a natural high." He wants his adventure to take him "from security to risk. From the known to the unknown. From well-grazed limits to open vistas"—and in a way it does, when, after superhuman hours, salaryless months, and reckless borrowing, he nearly lands in bankruptcy and divorce court. But by the end of his story, this reporter, who had once traveled to third-world countries with his social conscience on his sleeve, now sheds the tears of a champion in the new-economy marathon, a wholehearted convert to ecstatic capitalism, when his dot.com business finally takes off.
Though few Americans will probably ever experience the thrill of X-treme work, ecstatic capitalism's blurring of work and play affects all areas of the economy. Younger companies sponsor capture-the-flag games or afternoons of paintball tournaments. Other firms boast putting greens, horseshoe pits, and game rooms with pinball machines and Ping-Pong tables. People walk through the hallways in socks or bare feet; they decorate their cubicles with their favorite toys. Work is so fun and cool that it has even become a fashion statement. A recent Banana Republic ad campaign set in an office shows a svelte young woman holding a phone to her ear with her head thrown back, laughing hilariously, as a hand holds out another phone toward her. What's so funny? The only text is the same as the other ads in this campaign: the word "Work."
According to most of our philosophy and religion, not to mention our historical experience, none of this makes much sense. Work and play, labor and pleasure, were supposed to be opposites. In the Bible, paradise offers leisure and ease; out of Eden, man must earn his bread by the sweat of his brow. Work was supposed to be all dutiful superego—Freud believed that it rested on a renunciation of erotic instinct; leisure was id, freedom, festivals. Anyone who could manage to avoid work would; that's why we talk—or used to talk—of the idle rich.
Nineteenth-century utopian novels like Bellamy's Looking Backward and William Dean Howells's A Traveler from Altruia assumed that progress would inevitably lead to leisure, with time for hobbies, civic engagement, family, and neighborly sociability. Benjamin Hunnicutt, author of Work Without End and professor of leisure studies (!) at the University of Iowa, notes that the American labor movement's very first pamphlet was an early nineteenth-century call for reducing daily work hours from 12 to 10 and eventually to 8 or even 6. Even when work moved increasingly from the factory to the corporate office, social critics continued to contrast the world of work, which forced men in Gray Flannel Suits into a mold of dehumanizing conformity, with the world of home and leisure, where they could be themselves. As Peter and Brigitte Berger wrote in The Homeless Mind: "The private sphere has served as a kind of balancing mechanism providing meanings and meaningful activities for the discontents brought about by the large structures of modern society."
Sixties gurus, including Charles Reich in The Greening of America, echoed the nineteenth-century utopians and predicted the coming of a new day when technology-driven abundance would expand the opportunities for self-expression in leisure and private life. Less sanguine, Daniel Bell warned in The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism in 1976 that, once released, hedonism would undermine and even vanquish the work ethic, something that seemed already coming to pass around Haight-Ashbury in 1969.
But even as Bell was writing, the opposition between work and leisurely individual expression, public and private, was already easing: as David Brooks put it in a subchapter heading in his recent Bobos in Paradise, "The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism—Resolved!" Feminists began the process. In her 1963 Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan announced that it was the home that was the prison, while the public sphere promised self-expression and liberation. Though Christopher Lasch argued that Friedan's book was less a call for women to go to the office than for "commitment" to volunteer work, say, or to other sorts of civic participation, later feminists balked. The only route to women's liberation, they argued, was paid work.
The much-discussed discontents of the Organization Man didn't worry them. They saw work as offering women freedom from the restrictive, stereotypical roles of wife and mother. Public ambition—work life, in particular—increasingly came to seem the way one could express the real self. Throughout her recent book, Flux, Peggy Orenstein dramatizes how contemporary feminists take these ideas for granted. Career, she says, "requires the assertion of self," whereas relationships "repress . . . [one's] essential self." As for motherhood: "Your whole identity as a person gets swallowed up in [a baby]," she fears. These words mark an amazing transformation: work is now the arena where the true self can blossom; private life and the leisure it offers threaten to make us boring and inauthentic.
Today's workamaniacs wholly subscribe to the feminists' reversal of the traditional distinction between public and private. Work, in the words of Fast Company, "is personal." Accordingly, the ecstatic workplace is inviting, even homelike: it's "not just a place to work," says the online magazine Ecompany. "It's a place to live." Many companies now provide "nap tents" or "spent tents," with sleeping bags, pillows, alarm clocks, soothing music, and a supply of new toothbrushes. One New York media company has a booklined "womb room," with comfortable chairs and hardwood floors. A growing number of employers are hiring "convenience coordinators" or concierges, who locate specialty gifts, find a housekeeper, plan a Hawaiian vacation or a child's birthday party. In this spirit, some companies now call their human resources departments "People Offices," headed by "Chief People Officers," or CPOs. Some workers have substituted their co-workers for the family they no longer have time for: "I miss everyone when I go on vacation"; "TCS is my family," write two employees of The Container Store, Number One on Fortune's list of Best Companies to Work For.
Ecstatic work, then, is not only personal—it's communal. This explains why, despite the predicted rise in "free agency," self-employment actually fell between 1994 and 1999, for the first five-year period since the 1960s. Instead of starting up in their own garages, millions of workers have joined existing businesses, most of them large companies with at least 1,000 employees. Why? According to the New York Times, "these workers say that a traditional office—despite all its problems—has become one of the last places to find a community."
It helps that companies provide all sorts of services that you used to have to drive to town to find: auto repair, dry cleaners, even "wellness centers," where you can have your blood pressure or cholesterol monitored. The SAS Institute in Cary, North Carolina, offers breast-cancer and single-parent support groups, as well as Bible study groups. Cutting-edge corporate design firms have set out to evoke the spirit of community by turning the workplace into a Disneyland office-village, made all the more appealing because it has none of the garbage, traffic, or (presumably) idiots you have to contend with in the real thing. The cubicles and offices at the TBWA/Chiat/Day advertising firm in Los Angeles, which one employee says is "like a big playground," line the "streets" feeding onto a "Main Street," which leads to a tree-lined "Central Park," where employees can sit in café chairs and sip coffee while they work. A company called Netp@rk is planning New Age office parks, where you could arrive in the morning, drop your baby off at the day-care center, your mother at the elder-care center, and Fido at the kennel. At your desk, you could log in to your computer and check on them at any time. You could also take a break and go for a swim in the company pool, jog on the company track, or hike along the company nature trail. When it comes to pass, Netp@rk will be the objective correlative of ecstatic capitalism, the total workplace that satisfies all your needs.
Ecstatic capitalism has bored so deeply into the national psyche that it has even changed how Americans think of childhood. For just as every day Mom goes off to work—as did 59 percent of women with babies under one year old in 1998, vs. 31 percent in 1976—and Dad goes off to work, so baby . . . well, goes to work. While a generation ago, experts saw infancy as a time to develop healthy emotional attachments, contemporary parenting magazines and advice books are obsessed with "learning" or what Newsweek has called "building baby's brain," presumably for the demands of knowledge work. According to the Toy Manufacturer's Association of America, while sales of traditional infant and toddler toys have remained flat, technology-driven "learning toys," a category that didn't even exist 25 years ago, have taken off. Growing in popularity are software programs, like "Jumpstart Baby," that come with a BabyBall—an oversize, drool-proof computer mouse for infants as young as nine months.
After a lesson-packed infancy, the new-economy baby must begin school as early as possible. One New York City foreign-language program starts babies at six months—before they can talk—and public pressure is mounting for universal preschool for three- and four-year-olds. For today's five-year-old, a full day's work is mandatory: "No Time for Napping in Today's Kindergarten," proclaims a recent New York Times article. One Seneca Falls mother of seven was startled when her youngest child, during her first week of kindergarten, studied the parts of bees and was asked to keep a journal. She shook her head in amazement at the change from when her older children tearfully left the nest: "Never mind the mother-child separation; it's get to work!"
The new-economy grade-schooler also has no time for childish nonsense. Many districts have jettisoned gym and even recess. During the summer, kids go to computer camps, language immersion schools, and enrichment programs: for, as parenting magazines warn, LEARNING TAKES NO VACATION. Tutoring centers like Sylvan Centers and Score! have become the after-school and summer homes of a growing number of children on the move. (Score!'s CEO, Jeff Colon, has said his centers are most popular in the Bay Area, where parents are especially tuned in to the demands of the knowledge economy.) Chicago parents can send their youngsters to the Children's Health and Executive Club, with its miniature stair-climbing machine equipped with Magna Doodles for developing eye-hand coordination (to improve a child's reading skills) and body balance (to improve math skills). The company's founder, who has recently added a 7 AM breakfast club, promises to develop a "positive child, motivated to excel."
Most striking are the children who have absorbed the lessons of ecstatic capitalism so precociously that they are leaping past such jejune concerns as baseball and homework—and even school itself—to go straight to work. James U. McNeal, the country's leading researcher on children's consumption habits, says that younger and younger kids are making money mowing the lawn, cooking meals, and babysitting, so that by 1997 the typical ten-year-old had close to $14 in weekly spending money, a 75-percent increase over 1991. The Dallas Morning News reports a new breed of child entrepreneur, outfitted with business cards, credit cards, beepers, cell phones, and Palm Vs. Some of these young workers are in the old-fashioned lawn-cutting business, but others have spied a market for video-rental delivery and the like; still others, according to the article, are just "networking." They may well have gotten advice from one of an emerging genre of child business books like Making Cents: Every Kid's Guide to Money or Girls and Young Women Entrepreneurs: True Stories About Starting and Running a Business.
As for adolescents, nearly 18 percent of older teens are working at least 20 hours per week during the school year, according to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a record number that far exceeds teen working hours in other industrialized countries. Most working teens serve pizza and Big Macs, but more and more troubleshoot computers for $50 an hour, money that they then use to trade stocks over the Internet. Some of these techies simply forgo college, a trend that may partly explain the decline in high school grads attending college from 67 percent in 1997 to 63 percent in 1999. The New York Times reported that one such high school senior, earning "between $30,000 and $40,000" a year, had just made an offer on a $136,000 house near his hometown of Tiffin, Ohio. Says a Missouri 20-year-old who went straight to Silicon Valley after high school graduation and who now makes $50,000 a year and boasts of his $350,000 in stock options: "In this field, if you go to college, you're outdated."
Only the most curmudgeonly technophobe could fail to be impressed by the staggering amount of motivation, verve, and youthful energy that the new economy has unleashed. But you could forgive him for reminding us of the costs of its novel religion, for all its advantages. To begin with the most obvious, even if work today more nearly approximates play than it has in the past, it can never achieve the non-utilitarian randomness, the release, the freely chosen quality of play. Inevitably, 24/7 work ties us in knots; check out the number of Fast Company articles on stress, along with desktop "calming pools" for sale at department stores and the demand for corporate massage therapists.
Stress among workamaniac teens has become a theme in newspaper living sections. One New York Times–CBS News survey found that affluent teenagers were more likely than their less wealthy peers to complain of stress and, amazingly, to believe that their lives are harder than their parents' lives had been. A senior from St. Louis interviewed in Time gets up at 5 AM for track practice after only six hours of sleep. After a full day of school and play rehearsal, she comes home to three hours of homework. She doesn't date—"I just don't have the time"—and like many kids her age keeps a day planner to try to pencil in an hour here or there to see friends. More disturbing is how, as child development becomes the equivalent of career training, and as work success becomes the one agreed-upon parental goal, this pressure is passed on to young children: "Failing at Four" goes the pathetic title of one New York magazine article. Two years ago, the hour a week my daughter's fifth-grade class gives over to personal issues began not with warnings about drugs or hormonal changes but advice about how to handle stress.
Like most religions, ecstatic capitalism can be a totalizing system, and it cannot make sense of those things that do not fit its orthodoxy, especially domestic life. True, many companies now offer flextime and at-home Internet connections whose avowed purpose is to ease work-family tensions. But let's face it: the ultimate goal of these perks is to lower employee stress levels only so they can work more efficiently. In a profile in The New Yorker, Larissa MacFarquhar quotes Michael Saylor, head of MicroStrategy, as he pitches his company to a group of new recruits. "'Who are we competing with in order to capture your hearts and minds? . . . Other software companies? Other employers? What else?' He paused. No one could think of any other answer. 'Anything else you could do with your time,' came Saylor's response. 'You could stay at home, raise the kids, go to college, write the Great American Novel, or slit your wrists and end it all. . . . My job is to make sure that I'm providing you with a combination of economic, psychic, and emotional benefits that makes working for Micro-Strategy better than anything else you can do.'" In other words, the company does not simply offer a womb room; it wants to be your mother—and, for that matter, your wife.
But by playing wife and mother, ecstatic capitalism inevitably devalues those intimate relationships. When companies take care of preparing meals or buying a birthday gift for a spouse, they drain those activities of personal meaning. They cast cooking dinner for the family or planning a birthday party as nuisances, of no more significance or pleasure than a trip to Midas Muffler. Sparks.com perfectly exemplifies this tendency. Founder Felicia Lindau, driving home from work one day in 1997, remembered that the next day was her mother's birthday. It was too late to buy a card, but not too late to turn her carelessness into a business idea: a company where you can buy greeting cards 24/7. Better yet, a company that could "manage all of your relationships," as Sparks's website puts it: give them a list of cards you want sent for the next year, and they'll take care of each of them on the proper day. You don't have to give your mother's birthday another thought!
As the total workplace satisfies more and more of our needs that were once met elsewhere, family life takes on what Arlie Hochschild calls an "industrial tone." Playfulness and communal good feeling may be prominent in the office, but at home, time-defined tasks dominate. With Megan's tutoring session over at 5 and her ballet class beginning at 5:15, leaving 15 minutes for dinner before Josh's basketball practice starts, you half expect some families to adopt the bells or sirens used in early factories. "We're very, very busy people," says a husband and father interviewed in Father Courage, a recent study of fathers who share domestic duties with their wives. "We've had to structure [family life] like a business."
For the clearest insight into how ecstatic capitalism has sucked its energy from personal and emotional life, consider the mind-set of the late adolescents and young adults who have grown up in such homes. Their youthful idealism looks familiar enough, but they have transferred that idealism from Big Questions about Life and Love to Career. The Higher Education Research Institute, which has tracked campus attitudes over 30 years, has found that, while in the late 1960s students saw their college years as "a time to develop a meaningful philosophy of life," today they see it as a time to develop their earnings potential. Ben Lieber, dean of students at Amherst College, agrees: "There's one word to describe this generation—driven," he says. "You used to see this among first-generation college students. But over the past five or six years, more and more kids with college-educated parents are looking over their shoulders, 'Who's doing better than I?' There's a pervasive, underlying worry about credentials." "You have the feeling that the days of college as a broad and open-ended contemplation have come to an end," says Oberlin dean of students Peter Goldsmith.
Jason Mondberg, the ponytailed, skateboarding CTO of Sparks.com, certainly has no time for such nonsense. "I'm very goal-oriented," he says. "On days off, I always schedule my day. This hour I'll go on a hike, then go snorkeling. I can't lie on a beach." An article in Fast Company entitled "Five Ways to Chill; Five Tips to Keep Your Adrenaline Levels From Maxing Out" perfectly captures the current mood; the number-one tip, evidently unknown to this generation of working stiffs, is "Look Out the Window."
Thus for the young ecstatic capitalist work is not work, but then leisure is not leisure. And since ecstatic capitalism seems to recognize only one passion, love is not exactly love. University of Chicago professors Amy and Leon Kass frequently ask their students, "What is the most important decision you will make in your life?" The answer is almost invariably "career." When one nonconforming student answered, "the mother of my children," his classmates howled with derision. The casual, no-strings, one-night stand known as "the hook-up" now so common on college campuses could be labeled Sex That Won't Interfere with Your Career Plans. Yale junior Simon Rodberg, in an article entitled "Woman and Man at Yale," describes the hook-up as "a much needed break from the long-term planning that characterizes so much of our lives." Some of this is a simple matter of the laws of physics. If you are planning a summer internship in New York or law school in Chicago, what do you do with a boyfriend who's joining a start-up in L.A.? Moreover, once students graduate into the real world, the spirit of jokey conviviality that rules at the workplace doesn't necessarily lend itself to deeper involvements. "It's like working at a junior prom all year long," Sparks.com's Allison Behr explained. "But at the end of the day, all of us want a more a traditional relationship. There's no time."
Combined with career mania, this time crunch has the effect of suppressing spontaneous human contact, the sort that sometimes leads to unforeseen friendships or romances, and it turns even the young into rigorous, even brutal, pragmatists. When you have a career to pursue, an identity to brand, and a watch to check, someone better have a pretty fancy pedigree to merit your attention. "Everyone is so motivated and so into control that it's very hard to find someone you think is worth investing time, energy, and sensibility in," as a junior from Oakland told Yale student Rodberg.
The Nondisclosure Agreement, a legal document once used by lawyers and CEOs to protect corporate secrets during high-level negotiations and now popular among ambitious young entrepreneurs, is a perfect symbol of the toughening of intimate life. According to the Wall Street Journal, some of these young turks are demanding that their friends, roommates, relatives, dinner-party companions, and even their clergymen and fiancées sign on the dotted line, to ensure that if one of them does babble on about his new venture, at least he can sue them for damages. As one consultant told the Journal, "It's one of the critical items for a date: car keys, credit cards, condoms, and an NDA."
Still, ecstatic capitalism does not preclude happy endings, especially those in its own image. Take the recent New York Times wedding announcement of Seth Copeland, chief executive of Wideband Computers and Wideband Semiconductors, and clinical psychology student Stephanie Cantor. The bridegroom said he was attracted to his bride's "cognitive, logical skills," while the bride called theirs a typical Silicon Valley courtship: "The trend is get engaged during lunch and go back to work."
Inevitably, because of the way it colonizes all of life, ecstatic capitalism is bound to suffer some kind of backlash, perhaps during the next downturn. A 1999 Fast Company survey showed 91 percent of its respondents believing that it was important to make personal life more of a priority (though 83 percent would chose a $10,000 a year raise over one more hour a day at home). We're beginning to hear stories of career-driven 30-year-olds retiring and doing good works in what the New York Times has dubbed a "young-life crisis."
The most intense resistance comes from women who, despite the promises of careerist feminism, remain reluctant to surrender so many of their personal urges to the promises of ecstatic work. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Nancy Ann Jeffrey found that many married upper-income women are quitting work and moving back into Friedan's "comfortable concentration camp" of domestic life. Though the number of single-income households has remained steady overall, the proportion has "moved up considerably" among those earning $250,000 or more. Younger women too show signs that they are resisting work's greedy grasp. An Arthur Andersen survey found that teen girls say they'd prefer careers in small business and public service in order to maintain independence. Yalie Rodberg quotes one high school senior girl from Towson, Maryland: "It's funny how many girls are saying, 'You know, I just want to be a housewife now.'" Lisa Belkin, a New York Times reporter covering the work-family beat, wrote of how once during a business trip she sang a lullaby to her two young boys from a telephone bank at the Atlanta airport; the women making calls on both sides of her wept. Some human longings, it seems, resist being cubiclized.
Still, like it or not, for the time being ecstatic capitalism—even when it is less than fully ecstatic—is likely to remain powerful. My boyfriend—now my husband—and I have two children about the age we were when we set out in his Ford Falcon on our spiritual quest to San Francisco. Both of them work hours that would have made us think that they are living on a different planet, which in a sense they are. Meanwhile, their younger sister, a seventh-grader who rides her scooter to school and still dreams of her Halloween candy, shows little interest in boys—but she is starting to plan her SAT strategy.