April 25, 2007 By Chad Vander Veen
Our overreliance on technology is one of my favorite subjects to harp on. From Roombas to GPS-enabled cars, there are countless examples of technology making our lives ridiculously easy.
There are also examples of daily life that technology has glaringly forgotten, and exist solely because of history and tradition. Even the most ardent metrosexual would be forced to admit this garish, ghastly piece of fabric serves no purpose.
The necktie originated with Croatian mercenaries hired by French King Louis XII. Fashion-conscious Parisians were intrigued by the foreigners' colorful scarves knotted about their necks. Adopting these "cravats" as their own, Parisians' love of the necktie soon spread throughout Western Europe. Through time the necktie evolved, eventually becoming standard business and formal wear for men.
So why do we continue to wear this functionless accessory? Because it looks good? Says who? Them? You know what might look good too? Wrist tassels. "But the idea of wrist tassels is crazy!" you're no doubt trained to reply.
And you'd be right; they would be useless, albeit colorful, strands of fabric hanging aimlessly off your arms, interfering with simple tasks and causing general discomfort - which is exactly what a tie does, except it hangs from your neck.
Is finding an oddly shaped piece of cloth that hopefully matches your pants really a good enough reason to strangle yourself?
And to where do we most often wear the accursed tie? To work, of course. And it is at work that the majority of us toil under a condition whose existence makes little sense today - the 40-hour onsite workweek.
Initially the 40-hour workweek was a response to the squalid conditions employers imposed on workers. Post-World War II, the booming economy thrived on factory work and manual labor - and the 40-hour workweek protected employees from exploitation.
But today, most of our work is information-based rather than labor-based. We can do almost everything remotely - yet most of us show up at the office every day. Some days, there's a lot of work to do; other days, there's less. Yet instead of adapting to a fluctuating workflow, we dutifully sit at our desks until the eighth hour - most times diligently working and sometimes diligently making nothing look like work. Productivity isn't maximized and, for salaried employees, overtime simply means their hourly pay rate declines.
What if instead of eight hours a day, five days a week, we worked until the task was done? Some days that would mean more than eight hours, some days it would mean less. And how about instead of driving to the office, we worked remotely more often? This simple change could greatly reduce traffic and pollution as well as the tens of thousands of annual deaths on our highways - leaving the world a cleaner, happier place for more people.
But if the necktie is any indication, the 40-hour onsite workweek is here to stay. Like the necktie, it might look good, but it really doesn't make any sense.
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