Hey, Labor Day's for neanderthals too

BILLs TO PAY: Neaderthals didn't have mortgages to pay, but they still had plenty to worry about. Time for a quick reflection, via a new book, on the American holiday that celebrates work, Labor Day:

Not much has changed about the nature of work since the guy pictured above was roaming the earth, and that fact should prompt you to think more deeply about the career that you give your life to. This came to me in the course of reading Ryan Coonerty and Jeremy Neuner's inspiring new book, "The Rise of the Naked Economy: How to Benefit from the Changing Workplace" (Palgrave/Macmillan).

Why inspiring? Because, my friends, as you're looking ahead to a busy fall, the authors of this book offer a fresh perspective on who we are and what we do in the context of the much bigger frame of human history:

From the moment the first hominids scampered across the African savannas, the human species has been consumed by the work of staying alive. Our oldest ancestors are often referred to as hunter-gatherers, because that was their work.... Some studies show that hunter-gatherers worked only three hours a day, then basically hung out for the rest of the day. Once again proving that evolution isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The single most salient difference between early humans and contemporary humans is not why but how — and, more strikingly, how quickly — the nature of work has changed.

Their book is concerned with this fact -- that the nature of work has changed and accelerated (what's one of the culprits behind this acceleration? yes, it's technology). Even though some people measure this acceleration as being beneficial -- the "naked" in the title refers to how technology enables more people to avoid being stuck in an office five days a week -- the authors also make another unsettling point. Things move so fast, their book suggests, that we become paralyzed by our work. We have little time to evaluate what we do because we're trapped in the constant, hyper-pressures of meeting deadlines:

Early humans were engaged in the basic subsistence of hunting and gathering for two million years; during that period cultural evolution took hundreds of generations and technological advances took a millennium. Today we witness fundamental, even radical, social and economic change within a decade. This rate of change has made us more adaptable than the generations before us. But when it comes to work, an activity as central to human life as eating, sleeping, and procreating — though not nearly as enjoyable — we don’t have the opportunity to analyze and control what is happening to our lives. We are happy if we just keep our dental plan.

It's far too easy to lose ourselves in the rush of business, and the authors' book makes a fresh plea for each of us to do what we can to find the deeper, more meaningful sense of purpose in our work -- even if it's a tedious grind of paperwork and rubber stamps.

Easier said than done, I know, but still it's some welcome food for thought. Wasn't it William Wordsworth who said, back in the early 1800s, that "the world is too much with us"? Man, I wonder what he'd think today.

Have a good one, my friends.

Eden and immortality: new in bookstores

Just another day in Eden; credit:  Țetcu Mircea Rareș Man, Adam and Eve had no idea how lucky they were. No botox, no mortgage, no shame, no global warming. You name it. This summer, the superb publishing firm Palgrave MacMillan is bringing us two books that illustrate in dramatic, sometimes bleak terms what we've lost (besides Paradise) and what the future holds for us in terms of ourselves and our environment.

First, some myth-inspired longevity numbers:

--Methusaleh was 969 years old when he died -- Moses was 120 years old when he died -- "Twilight's" Edward Cullen is (I think) 17 on the outside, and  (I think) about 105 or 106 years old on the inside

Alex Zhavoronkov's new book "The Ageless Generation: How Advances in Biomedicine Will Transform the Global Economy" suggests people today are doing fairly well when it comes to longevity. Soon, he suggests, you won't have to be a legendary biblical figure -- or a teen vampire -- to make it well into the triple digits.

ageless generation coverJust consider a couple of facts, courtesy of the author. A hundred years ago, in 1913, life expectancy was the age of 47. And what about prehistoric man? 22 years!

What's helped us today, says Zhavoronkov, who heads a bio-gerontology research institute, are many things, including: the rise of democracy, the concept of retirement, the information age, medical advances. All of these have fostered new possibilities for the elderly.

If your uncle or grandma complains about their Medicare coverage, you might remind them, as he says, that "the medical advances of the twentieth century dramatically increased life expectancies the world over."

What are some of these advances?

Thanks to potential new methods to regenerate tissue and address organ failure -- man-made stem cells and artificial organs are two of several subjects he surveys in his book -- we might all have a better shot at Methusaleh-dom one day. It requires a massive shift in world views about aging and medicine, but Zhavoronkov sounds an optimistic note as he asks all of us to join him, via social media and the internet, in a campaign to raise awareness about the possibilities ahead:

"By New Year's Eve 2099, many of the promising breakthroughs discussed in this book will be ancient history. Some will have been surpassed by even more exotic life-extension therapies. Extreme longevity will be common throughout the developed world. Millions of healthy, active centenarians will celebrate the arrival of a new century. I plan to be one of those healthy seniors. Choose to join me. There are dark clouds on the horizon, but the distant future promises to be bright."

At first, it's harder to hear the optimistic note -- or see the bright distant future -- in Amy Larkin's "Environmental Debt: The Hidden Costs of a Changing Global Economy," but it's there. The author, a former Greenpeace activist who now runs a consulting firm called Nature Means Business, provides us with precious information about what's going on at the front lines of the global environmental debate.

environmental debt coverThe title of her book points to her main argument: Pollution shouldn't be free. Why not? The future cost and damages of pollution -- in other words, the environmental debt -- is "just like any other debt, at some point the bill will come due." Her book looks at ways of making business and government more accountable by connecting "the profitability of business with the survival of the natural world."

Like Zhavoronkov, she's arguing for a massive shift in public understanding, especially when she says, for instance, that the fossil fuel industry  should embed the costs of its pollution "in its profit and loss statements."

Larkin's book supplies an intriguing overview of the issues and arguments, along with some openminded efforts by some corporations -- PepsiCo, for instance,  which has worked on improving sustainability practices at its factories, and McDonald's. In the past decade, in fact, the Golden Arches worked with Greenpeace on a moratorium for soybean production on deforested Amazon land (in case you didn't know, soybean is fed to all those chickens turned into six-piece and 20-piece orders of McNuggets).

I know both books certainly don't fit under the category of "easy beach read," but if you're interested in updating yourself on such issues this summer before the fall begins, both are an excellent place to start.

They'll remind you, as they did for me, that we really don't have the opportunity of sailing off, like King Arthur or Frodo Baggins, to Avalon or Valinor to find our Paradise. It's here, it's now; we have to work with the world we've got.