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Society, Politics & Law

Are We Really Living Life 24/7

Updated Tuesday 9th August 2005

Penny Smith is best known as the main presenter for GMTV news, but it’s far from a glamorous lifestyle, and working unsociable and irregular hours is very common. Penny’s not alone - more and more people are working longer and stranger hours than ever before as technology makes the world a smaller place. But are we really living life 24 hours a day, 7 days a week...and what is it doing to us? Ever Wondered sent her to investigate

Penny Smith enjoys some tea Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team

Let’s start with the sharp end of the business - Penny trips down to the international trading floor at Barclays Bank to meet stockbroker Justin Urquart-Smith...
Justin Urquart-Smitht Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission
Jenny: So are we a 24 hour society?

Justin Urquhart-Smith: No not yet, but we’re getting pretty close though. Most days we work on average a 13-14 hour day, sometimes it goes up to a 22 hour day!

Penny: Why is that?

Justin Urquhart-Smith: It’s up to what our clients want us to do, if they want to trade all night we’re going to have to respond. It’s mainly due to the internet, they can have access to contact us when ever they want.

Penny: So when do you see your family?

Justin Urquhart-Smith: You don’t, you have a virtual family, with a virtual dog!

If you’d like to develop your understanding of the world of business then have a look at course B200 Understanding Business Behaviour
With a few hours left of trading time, Penny meets some of the other stockbrokers to get their reaction. Most enjoyed it and found the buzz and the excitement of meeting new clients a thrill, while others considered it a way of life, something you get used to. But is it just Penny that has to get up at 4am? She decides to phone a man who knows about time...

 

Professor Richard Scase Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission Professor Richard Scase is one of the UK’s leading speakers and an authoritative business forecaster of future scenarios.

Penny: You know about future trends. It doesn’t feel like a 24 hour society yet...

Professor Scase: No it isn’t...yet. But in the next 10 years a huge change will happen in the workplace which will change how we work and where we work. The use of time will be very different to what it is today as well.

Penny: Why’s that?

Professor Scase: It’s due to the decline in manufacturing and the growth of the knowledge economy. The future as I see it, is that Britain will became part of the global economy selling information services around the world. This will mean that we will have to work in different time zones and irregular hours. Just 10 years ago that would have been completely unthinkable and very unusual.

Penny: So what does that mean for the future?

Professor Scase: Retail will change, people will want to shop at all times, this will put pressure and demand on other people to work a 24 hour day

Penny: Does that mean that I will be able to get a parcel delivered to my door at 4am?

Professor Scase: In the future as society adapts, distribution process and retail changes, we will probably be able to get anything we want, at any time we want. Look at California today, that points to how Britain is going to be in the next five years.

 
Penny enjoys some tea Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission

All very well, but when will we have time to sleep? Will forty winks be sufficient - and if so why? Penny knows the perfect place to find out - she catches up on the secrets to a good night’s beauty sleep at the Guilford Sleep laboratory with Neil Stanley...

 

Neil Stanley Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission Neil is the director of the Guildford Sleep Laboratory and chairman-elect of the British Sleep Society. His research interests are in sleep and mental performance, and how shift work affects circadian rhythms

Penny: Are we adaptable to this 24 hour society that everybody is talking about?

Neil Stanley: We are adaptable to a point, but to go 24 hours is madness. We are not designed for it, we are designed to sleep at night and be awake during the day.

Penny: What about people who work night shifts?

Neil Stanley: People who work shifts tend to be more prone to illness, depression and are more likely to die earlier, as it can be a terrible strain on your body. We have a very strong body clock which says that we should be awake when it’s light and asleep in the dark. People who go against that are going against evolution, and will pay the price.

Penny: Is this body clock the same as the circadian rhythm?

Neil Stanley: Yes. It’s our 24-hour-day rhythm which is very strongly ingrained in all of us.

Penny: Any way of changing this internal body clock to adapt to this 24 hour society?

Neil Stanley: We should no more expect to change this than we should expect to live under water!

So it seems that biologically we’re not cut out for this 24 hour society - but we are still inexorably moving towards it. Penny gathers her pennies for a spot of midnight shopping to see why...

Penny at Tescos Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission After a chat with a couple of Tesco workers it seems that people would rather work night shifts so that it can fit into their lifestyle, such as studying or bringing up children. But why is everybody else shopping at this ridiculous hour. Penny meets sociologist Barbara Adam to find out why...

Professor Barbara Adams Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission Professor Barbara Adam is a lecturer on Social Theory at Cardiff University. One of her main research interests explores time and the politics of food.

Penny: Barbara should I be surprised at the number of workers and shoppers at this hour?

Professor Adam: No not really. A lot of people work unearthly and unsociable hours and always have done. The reason is that time is treated as money and if time is money then you must close all unproductive time gaps. In other words there should be no machinery standing around and no food on the shelves without people buying it.

The 24 hour society permeates everywhere. Take supermarkets - you don’t know whether it’s day or night or whether its Autumn or Winter when you are shopping. Look at the produce, you can’t tell what season we are in. We expect apples to be here every day of the year but harvested apples that have been stored all this time won’t be as fresh as the ones harvested last week.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how people act individually and collectively have a look at DD100 An Introduction to the Social Sciences: Understanding Social Change

If you’re got some extra time on your hands and want to find out more here are a few suggestions on how to find out more:

Books you can read

’Global Transformation: Politics, Economics and culture’, David Hend, Stanford University Press, ISBN 0804736278

’Economics: A Tool for Critically Understanding Society’, Tom Riddell, Addison-Wesley Pub. Co, ISBN 0201557142

Links you can surf
More information on Neil Stanley and the Guildford Sleep Laboratory

British Sleep Society

Also on the Ever Wondered site: You can join Edward Enfield as he asks can we hold back time? or discover how does nature tell the time with dendrochronologist Cathy Groves.

If you think you might be interested in studying more about these subjects, find out what the Open University has to offer.

The BBC and the Open University are not responsible for the content of external websites

 

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