Work and Quality of Life (Reading 03)

When I first began my year studying abroad in Dublin, I was prepared to spend much of my time studying. I was taking about six courses in Trinity’s excellent English program and wanted to get the most that I could from them. The experience of living in a new culture was minor afterthought, a small adjustment before I could maximize my learning. After all most of my family identified as Irish; maybe the country would just fit my genetic disposition. During our first welcome sessions, one of the staff members at Notre Dame remarked that the quality of life was very important in Ireland, not so much the demands of business or even crafts. I thought, well yes but isn’t it important to everyone? The time I spent studying isn’t to produce wealth or advance some industry, it’s to broaden my outlook and enhance the quality of my interactions with others, since I have more knowledge to draw upon and share.

As I took a morning run around the city (as I routinely did most mornings) and was heckled by a group of teenagers, then several older men and women, I started to realize I might be experiencing an actual cultural difference. They just do not have the same virtues set before them. We are fed notions of progress and achievement that should motivate our every action. It is extremely common to see someone running through an American city,  just to get more miles in. There are plenty of good runners in Ireland, but they are usually seen in the parks or somewhere more pleasant to run through. It is not a routine performed compulsively every morning. I noticed that students were less fixated on concrete goals in class as well. There was only one longer assignment for the end of each class, but I still felt like I had catching up to do for each class. The students were incredibly intelligent, making beautifully phrased comments that seemed to sum up what I might take whole six-page papers to demonstrate. The ideas in class were not well contained by certain learning goals or study guidelines; everyone was free to contribute original thoughts that they often gained from material outside the syllabus. Unexpectedly, I learned the most from listening to students in class or having scattered conversations around the school. There is a level of understanding about some texts that cannot be achieved by any structured approach. Ulysses or the theory surrounding it, Derrida, Cixous and the like, cannot be logically outlined like a formal analysis. Their writing operates in a certain way that you have to approach from all different directions, not just in line with good study habits. Ulysses itself only treats of one day, reminding us how much there is to be appreciated in the moments that always pass us by as we think about career goals.

I agree with Dan Kim’s blog: Eat, sleep, code, repeat does not make you a better programmer. There are many more aspects to what we do and what makes for good code than working endlessly. We see accomplishment as an essential virtue. This slogan might intend some groundbreaking software as a sign of accomplishment, but the metric for most companies is the profit generated. In its earliest usage virtue was not tied to progress but referred to a balanced, rational life in accord with a higher purpose. Seeing progress and invention as a virtue closes us off from the best software we can make, for we miss all the wonder our work should be celebrating. These arguments that guest workers drive down the wages are paper thin, since when you look at mere numbers, arbitrarily setting American earnings as a priority, you are ignoring the benefits for those guest workers and how much they can bring to the community (I found Microsoft’s letter a very touching profession of this sentiment, and I haven’t touched on the DACA but I consider the motions to revoke it horrible and tyrannical). To me imposing barriers on these exchanges may ostensibly increase some salaries but it does so in a rather usurious fashion by cutting off the real flow of labor and capital. Any anti-immigration argument comes down to a veiled ploy to perpetuate the supremacy of a certain class and exclude the other.