Title: The Outsourced Self: What Happens When We Pay Other to Live Our Lives for Us
Author: Arlie Russell Hochschild
Publisher: Picador (Paperback)
Acquired: From the publisher for review consideration
Publisher’s Summary: We’ve long imagined the family as being apart from the marketplace, the one realm where the personal and the private hold sway. Yet as Arlie Russell Hochschild shows in The Outsourced Self, the market has quietly invaded our homes in a huge variety of ways — as we turn to dating services, wedding planners, eldercare workers, eldercare managers, life coaches, and sometimes even surrogate mothers across the world to bear our biological children. How, Hochschild asks, do we keep personal life feeling personal? Even if we never buy anything, why are we beginning to think of personal life as business people look at profit and loss, return on investment, and the bottom line? Can’t we find a better balance?
Review: Since 2004, the year I moved out of my parents house and into the dorms at my university, I’ve moved 11 different times. And every single one of those times, my mom, my dad, my brother and my sister and my friends have been there to help me. But that’s a luxury (or perhaps tradition) that people who move far away from their social networks often don’t have. Instead, a huge industry of professionals has developed specifically to fill a gap created by diffused communities.
While The Outsourced Self by Arlie Russell Hochschild never specifically mentions movers (I think they’re too functional for her purposes), it was the best example I could think of from my own life that sort of illustrates the conundrum of this book: what happens when we allow market-driven services into our personal lives? What are the emotional and social repercussions of outsourcing tasks that we used to rely on our network of family and friends to help complete?
Throughout the book, Hochschild compares how people completed personal tasks like finding a mate, planning their weddings, and taking care of their aging parents in the “good old days” with the services that are available now, offering a contrast between a time that emphasized community and a time that, in some respects, emphasizes results. And her tone throughout is quite wistful, looking back and romanticizing what we had compared to what we have (or could have) now.
While I understand what she was trying to do, there are points at which it feels like Hochschild doesn’t give life today enough credit. In the chapter on dating for example, I couldn’t help think that the opportunities that online dating can provide are a much better option than just waiting around on your front porch for a friend of a friend to come alone.
But I suppose that leads into one of the most fascinating parts of the book, the way the different individuals that Hochschild interviewed put limits on the things they were willing to outsource. Each person had some (generally inexplicable) point at which they became uncomfortable with handing off a task to someone else and chose to keep it for themselves.
As a reader, it was interesting to compare their comfort levels with my own. Hire someone to clean my house? If I had the money, absolutely. Join an online dating site? I’d consider it. Hire someone to plan my wedding? Maybe, but probably not because it seems awfully extravagant. Hire a surrogate to carry my baby? I’m not sure I could do that.
The Outsourced Self really offers a series of conversation starters. What types of personal outsourcing are you comfortable with? How do you value the relationships you have with others? What is the proper balance, for you, between keeping your personal life personal or passing on some of those tasks for others? There’s no right answer to any of these questions, but they’re important concerns I hadn’t spent much time considering until I read this book.
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