In a Nutshell

Mike Winerip has a fine, sad story in the New York Times about a 58-year-old man who went from a highly paid executive position to 18 months of unemployment. Of course billions of people (in war-zones, hospices, etc.) are worse off. But what I found interesting about the piece is that this man's life seems to encapsulate everything that is best and worst in American life.

On the one hand, he enjoyed a level of freedom and affluence that would have been unimaginable to most people not long ago--or to many of the world's people today. On the other hand, he's a strange, free-floating form of being, lost in time-space, a victim of the intense specialization and mobility that modern life fosters. When things were good, he used this freedom to leave his wife. Since he could work from home (at a job he can barely explain), he moved from suburban Washington, DC, to somewhere in Florida. Then his job went away and he moved to suburban New York, where he thought there would be more opportunities. But there are none. Prospective Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for watching tv.JPGemployers want applications to be submitted electronically, then never respond to them, so that the whole thing seems an exercise in futility, like yoo-hooing frantically into the void. Now he has no job, no apparent community and no particular prospects. He lives alone, of course. I should think his current situation, to many of the world's people, would be terrifying.

Yet he strives to reinvent himself. He's writing genre novels, taking notes on his Blackberry. It's great that he doesn't just sit home, drinking beer and watching TV (like everyone else!), but what a sad pickle. I cannot think of a recent article that captures more effectively both the great opportunities and terrible pitfalls of life in our society.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/exalthim/226974610

Presented by

Daniel Akst

Dan Akst is a journalist, essayist and novelist who wrote three books. His novel, The Webster Chronicle, is based on the lives of Cotton and Increase Mather. More

Dan Akst is a journalist, novelist and essayist whose work has appeared frequently in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Wilson Quarterly, and many other publications.

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Video

The 86-Year-Old Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

More in Business

Just In