Outsourcing your life

Posted: June 9, 2012 at 5:13 am

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Once, only the wealthy paid other people to perform their most personal tasks: finding mates, raising (or even having) children, making meals.

Now those professionals have become available to the upper-middle and middle classes. We hire people to name our children and love our parents, shop for the gifts we give and walk our dogs. We even hire people to help us figure out what it is that we want. (That's right, you can grow up to be a wantologist.)

But these are complicated transactions, and we all need to pay attention, according to UC Berkeley sociology professor Arlie Russell Hochschild, author of the new book "The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times."

Hochschild, who interviewed more than 100 people for her book, is careful not to judge these services "that reach into the heart of our emotional lives" or the people who employ these strangers. And she acknowledges, "We are not going back. We don't want to."

The stories of the ordinary people she talked to reveal much about how we live today: what it means that, in large measure, "village life" has become so commercialized.

"These services are only likely to proliferate in a world that undermines community, disparages government, marginalizes nonprofits and believes in the superiority of what's for sale," Hochschild writes.

So how, she asks, do we go forward? We each must figure out what is too personal to outsource; we have to understand what we cherish and hold on to it.

Consider: The woman who hires a love coach but insists it's for her alone to sort through the Match.com replies. The dad who decides that he alone will put on his 5-year-old's birthday party, even when the parents of her friends hire professionals. The bride who hands almost every detail over to a planner but insists on choosing her dress with her mom because that, to her, is too personal.

"In the face of the market's de-personalization of our bonds with others, we do what we can, consciously or not, to re-personalize them, to make the market feel less like a market," Hochschild concludes.

The author of such books as "The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home" is not just an observer. She came to "The Outsourced Self" in part through her experience seeking care for an elderly aunt who lived 3,000 miles away. She sees her research as a bit of the canary in the coal mine an early warning of just how much we're giving over to strangers.

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Outsourcing your life

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June 9th, 2012 at 5:13 am

Posted in Life Coaching