I thought the book Elsewhere, USA: How We Got from the Company Man, Family Dinners, and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, Blackberry Moms, and Economic Anxiety, by Dalton Conley, sounded rather interesting.
A mere twenty-five pages in, however, I decided that it wasn't as interesting as it sounded and that I'd be taking the book elsewhere, all right: right back to the library. It's one of those nonfiction titles that's very much in vogue these days: the "big idea" book, like Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point or Outliers or Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do, and What It Says about Us. Conley's big idea is that our daily lives are changing because "boundaries between leisure and work, public space and private space, and home and office have blurred and become permeable" (from the front jacket copy). Throughout the first chapter he points out that many of the people working all the time, from home and at the office, are actually high in socioeconomic status, and should have enough money, but have extreme anxiety because they think they're not doing as well as their very well-off neighbors.
As I said, it's not a bad question to consider. I actually rather enjoyed Robert Putnam's sociological classic in this area, Bowling Alone. But Conley, like Thomas Friedman, strikes me as trying too hard to make his writing catchy, throwing out phrases and words like "the elsewhere society," "intravidualism," "weisure" (work and leisure combined), and "convestment" (consumption and investment). I don't think it's a bad book. I think it's probably got a lot of very interesting things to say about modern society, technological changes, buying habits, our "service" work which doesn't give us the fulfillment of production work (wherein people actually make things), and family life.
But when he starts describing scenarios of rushed and harried family members, all of whom bring their own laptops to the dinner table? My patience starts to wear thin. That starts to seem less like a societal problem than an individual one: stop buying your kids laptops. Or make them turn them off over dinner. Doesn't seem like you'd need a whole book to figure that out, does it?