Devon Price is a social psychologist and professor at Loyola. Price is a remarkable thinker with an eye for how the human condition has been run down by the internet and the metabolism of the modern workplace. Their new book Laziness Does Not Exist examines what they call “The Laziness Lie.” For those who grew up with (and on!) the internet, The Laziness Lie, as Price lays it out, sounds all too familiar: being told constantly—through work and education and the internet—that we are not working hard enough or learning enough or, simply, doing enough.
It’s an indictment of what has come to be known colloquially as hustle culture. Which: LOL. There is nothing inherently virtuous in working oneself to the bone. One’s identity should not be tied up in work. You shouldn’t feel the need to reply to emails on Saturday. And you shouldn’t feel bad about not replying to emails on Saturday.
Price does an excellent job dismantling hustle culture and the way modern workplace and education have ground even the best and brightest to dust. Your work and your productivity are not a calculus for your self-worth. We chatted with the ebullient Price via Zoom from their co-working space in Chicago about pandemic life, what the hell to do with your smartphone, and how to listen to your laziness.
Oh, it was a nightmare. I think through watching a lot of people really spiral online or want to be able to do something meaningful—from acknowledging racial justice to addressing how the pandemic was being mishandled—taught me a lot about my own baggage.
This was definitely a year where I noticed people really want to feel like they have a life that matters. They're doing things that are important and they're so boxed in a way that sometimes makes it feel almost impossible to make a difference. And so then people put their energy into feeling really guilty about not doing things perfectly and just running themselves ragged.
So this year was about just learning to check in with myself and really think about, What is the right thing to do? What are my values?
I’m focusing more on digging into relationships that are meaningful to me instead of relying on external impressions and wondering, Do people like me?
Initially, it got a lot worse. I had a lot of social engagements that were digital. As soon as the pandemic happened, I was doing all these things over Zoom—constantly trying to fill up my calendar.
As soon as work from home started at the beginning of the pandemic, there were no boundaries. And because you don't even have a commute or any real-life things happening, there's no limit to the number of things you can commit to.
For me, it just really reached a breaking point where I was clearly doing a lot of that because I was lonely and because I wanted to keep my mind off what was happening. I think a lot of people were in the same boat and it got to a point where I was just so anxious all the time and just really broke down.
That was a big regrouping moment where I was like, Okay, I need to slow down. I need to make time for kind of authentic, one-on-one conversations. And in some ways, the pandemic is very well suited for that kind of thing.
But in other ways, it's completely antithetical to getting so much stimulation all the time.
Yeah. There's not much else that we can do these days. It's slowly getting better, but being online, we already had a huge work-life interference problem, most of us pre-pandemic, but then suddenly your phone and your laptop are your church, it's your activist organizing space. It's your bar that you hang out with friends at. It's your workplace. It's everything.
I've had to set a lot of time limits on social media apps that they just shut down after I use them for half an hour per day on my phone because I can't trust myself to get out of the algorithm.
I am the kind of person who has the same epiphanies a thousand times over because you make a change and then there are so many forces pushing you in a certain direction that it's not like you stop making that mistake again and again.
So I notice myself backsliding in whatever way. I had a big moment over the summer where I realized, Okay, I'm trying to keep myself hyper-busy and hyper-connected, and this isn't sustainable. It's not addressing the root problem.
I think I find a lot of this stuff easier than most people I know. It's still really a struggle to just break out of the instinct to constantly refresh notifications, needing that stimulation and having my attention fried from being on social media too much and just cycling through the same apps.
Retraining my attention—and it feels like such a cliche at this point because so many people have written about it—but getting used to just sitting down with a book again or playing a video game and not reflexively checking notifications. That's really hard. That seems like something that I'm still kind of working on re-digging those grooves in my brain.
One thing I've been thinking about lately is chasing actual pleasure instead of stimulation. And sometimes the things that give us real, genuine pleasure on whatever kind of, not even necessarily more central, but in a slow lugubrious, like, Oh, I love just enjoying this thing. And time slows down when I enjoy this thing. Find that. It's almost always something that you are not going to get instant rewards or recognition for.
And I think that's actually really great because just exercising your imagination in a slow way is really excellent right now.
Oh gosh, it’s very difficult. But I think the first step for me is just noticing how many physical feelings and emotions just reflexively go, It's stupid to be upset about this. I haven't worked enough to be tired right now.
I dread it. I'm just constantly and reflexively trying to tamp down emotions that are getting in the way of me being productive and satisfying other people. So just learning to notice those feelings and instead of judging them. To see them as part of your body's warning system—that's where it starts. And it doesn't go away entirely.
I think a lot of it is saying no to more things, even when you feel bad initially about saying no to things. You need to build up distress tolerance instead of trying to caffeinate and willpower and shame yourself into doing things differently.
I hope so. I think the pandemic has really laid bare how unsustainable our relationship to work is. And so I think it has been a big clarifying moment for a lot of people: I'm never going back to that life again! Things have changed. We've shown how many meetings could just be an email.