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Elsewhere, U.S.A.: How We Got from the Company Man, Family Dinners, and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, BlackBerry Moms, and Economic Anxiety
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Over the past three decades, our daily lives have changed slowly but dramatically. Boundaries between leisure and work, public space and private space, and home and office have blurred and become permeable. How many of us now work from home, our wireless economy allowing and encouraging us to work 24/7? How many of us talk to our children while scrolling through e-mails on our BlackBerrys? How many of us feel overextended, as we are challenged to play multiple roles每worker, boss, parent, spouse, friend, and client每all in the same instant?

Dalton Conley, social scientist and writer provides us with an X-ray view of our new social reality. In Elsewhere, U.S.A., Conley connects our daily experience with occasionally overlooked sociological changes: women*s increasing participation in the labor force; rising economic inequality generating anxiety among successful professionals; the individualism of the modern era每the belief in self-actualization and expression每being replaced by the need to play different roles in the various realms of one*s existence. In this groundbreaking book, Conley offers an essential understanding of how the technological, social, and economic changes that have reshaped our world are also reshaping our individual lives.


From the Hardcover edition.

Book Description
Over the past three decades, our daily lives have changed slowly but dramatically. Boundaries between leisure and work, public space and private space, and home and office have blurred and become permeable. How many of us now work from home, our wireless economy allowing and encouraging us to work 24/7? How many of us talk to our children while scrolling through e-mails on our BlackBerrys? How many of us feel overextended, as we are challenged to play multiple roles每worker, boss, parent, spouse, friend, and client每all in the same instant?

Dalton Conley, social scientist and writer provides us with an X-ray view of our new social reality. In Elsewhere, U.S.A., Conley connects our daily experience with occasionally overlooked sociological changes: women*s increasing participation in the labor force; rising economic inequality generating anxiety among successful professionals; the individualism of the modern era--the belief in self-actualization and expression--being replaced by the need to play different roles in the various realms of one*s existence. In this groundbreaking book, Conley offers an essential understanding of how the technological, social, and economic changes that have reshaped our world are also reshaping our individual lives.

Amazon Exclusive Essay: Dalton Conley Writes in from His BlackBerry (Typos Intact)

I am writing this on my BlackBerry as I sit on the sidelines of my daughter's soccer game. My wife, her mother, is off in Indiana on business. And this pretty much captures life in Elsewhere USA, where professional couples with children feel the pressures of work 24/7 and solve their multiple commitment conflicts by doing all at once with partial attention. We are afraid to stop working (ir perhaps can't) since, though in objectivew terms we may be doing better, rising ineqiality makes us feel as if we are falling behind...

it struvk me that as of 2007, when I set out om this project, noone had yet written a book that captured tye subtle but unmistakablw ways that everyday life has changed fir this class of americans--or, for that matter, the socioeconomic roots of such changes, above and betond the obvious technological advances that have besieiged us over the last two decades...

(Coach scolds me for coaching my daughter from the sidelines...)

There had once been an esteemed tradition among sociologists to try to crystallize a historical moment, in order 2 reflect it back 2 those living it in the hope that one has put words to somethibg that was felt by many but unarticulated. The 1950s were filled wuth such classics like, THE ORGANIZATION MAN; WHITE COLLAR; THE LONELY CROWD; and THE AFFLUENT SOCIETY, to name a dfew.

So I decided to try to swing for the fences, so to speak, and put into words what I--as a sociologist and victim of the elsewhere ethic--saw happening around me. The economic red shift (anxiety caused by rising inequality at the top), the price culture (the spread of markets into every nook and cranny of daily life), convestment (investment + consumption), weisure (work + leisure), the portable workshop (what I am writing this on), intravidualism (an ethic of fragmented selves replacing the modern ethic of individualism), and, of course, the Elsewhere Society (the interpenetration of spheres of life that were once bounded fropm each other). All these terms were attempts 2 describe the gradual--yet fundamental--ways that life has changed beneath our feet since those days of those 1950s classics. The organization man is gone, replaced by the elsewhere dad, the blackberry mom and various other figures in our new social landscape. Or so I claim... It's up to u 2 tell me if I've struck out or connected...

(Goal for the Ravens!!!! Go E!)

(Photo credit Lisa Ackerman)

Customer Reviews:

  • What led to our current aggregate economic anxiety? [Penned before the recent market crash]
    Preface: This book was penned before the recent market crash.

    Clay Shirky's 'Here Comes Everybody' was the best book that I read in 2008. Dalton Conley's 'Elsewhere, U.S.A.' may prove to be the best book that I read in 2009. [And it's only February 1st!] [Interestingly enough, both Clay Shirky and Dalton Conley are both affiliated with NYU.]

    The two central questions that Dalton Conley raises and attempts to answer are these:

    Given that:
    - When Mr. 1959 (depicted in William Whyte's 'Organization Man') attained a dignified level of professional success (i.e. established one's own dentistry practice, become a vice-president at a tire company, etc.), he often parlayed the accompanying level of income and wealth into more leisure time for he and his family.
    - Whereas when Mr. (or increasingly Mrs.) 2009 attains a comparable level of professional success (i.e. rises to the rank of marketing executive for a multinational corporation, joins a prestigious law firm, etc), he (or she) increasingly does *not* parlay the accompanying level of wealth into more leisure time. Instead, he or she winds up working more hours with more economic anxiety.

    - How and why did this happen?
    - What are the ramifications of this change?

    Throughout, Conley asserts that it was not one thing, but many that led us to this economic reality:

    Here are just a few:
    - Rising economic inequality between high and low wage earners, and self-imposed pressure to "keep up with the Joneses" in a post-materialist society.
    - Technology that enables a 24x7 work week.
    - Females earning more and remaining in the work force for longer spans of time.
    - A lower marginal income tax rate for the top bracket.
    - A greater recognition of the opportunity cost associated with "not working".

    At the book's conclusion, Conley cautions the reader that it would be unproductive to use one's entire energy to rally against our new reality. In fact, Conley never labels the new reality as universally bad. Instead, he urges the reader to recognize the tradeoffs between what once was and is today....more info
  • A contemporary sociology riff
    Elsewhere USA tells a sociological story about how American society has evolved in recent decades, initially using as its device the comparison of the imaginary types "1959 man" with "2009 man." At the start of the book, meeting the imaginary types, I found the book a bit annoying--the description of "2009 man" seemed to me a caricature of a very particular version of modern American life: the self-important, well-educated New Yorker who has a hard time understanding that any life of value could be lived away from New York. To my reading pleasure, and maybe to the detriment of any coherent organization for the whole book, however the importance of that charicature gradually went away as the book progressed. Instead, it became a thought-provoking and fun to read series of riffs drawing from sociology to analyze modern life. The book gradually demonstrates the usefulness of the sociological imagination as a lens for making sense of our social world--riffs about why we've come to accept sitting through advertising to get to watch movies in a theater, or why personal crime rates have gone down as inequality has risen, or how the idea of growing work insecurity is a myth (the book notes at several points, perhaps with a degree of psychological insecurity, that we are more likely to lose a marriage than a job).

    As a social scientist myself (though not a sociologist), I didn't always agree with the interpretations offered in Elsewhere USA but I did appreciate the book's attempt to offer an accessible but educated interpretation of modern life. The idea of a book that attempts a contemporary version of "The Organization Man" or "The Lonely Crowd" is a worthy endeavor. It is, however, important to be aware that this books interpretations are just that--attempts to understand rather than definitive conclusions. There is, in fact, a helpful reminder of that fact in a footnote very early in the book when market de-regulation is held up as a stabilizing force because in a globalized economy risk is so widely distributed there is little economic risk--an interpretation that seems ludicrous amidst the 'great recession' of 2009 brought on (at least in part) by reckless de-regulation. But to the credit of "Elsewhere USA" each interpretation offered in the book is emphasized as only part of the explanation. The social world is damn complicated, a simple fact that some find frustrating and I find fascinating. That is also a fact that makes me appreciate this book as a series of well-crafted riffs spun into a thought provoking narrative--even if most of the individual lives I'm familiar with bear little resemblence to that of the wealthy Manhattanite caricatured here as somehow representing an epoch....more info
  • Great Start, Not So Great Finish
    The first two chapters are great, but Conley's ELSEWHERE USA fizzles
    after that. He acutely portrays the modern madness that surrounds the
    typical family in the USA and contrasts that powerfully with his parents
    and grandparents lives. The book, however, loses steam the closer it
    gets to the end. Conley has no real solutions and his habit of creating vocabulary gets a little stale. But, for its insights, this is still worth reading. If I had the option, I would have given it 3.5 stars. ...more info
  • Interesting Facts and Great Writing
    Dalton Conley's *Elsewhere, USA* is an impressive narrative of a shift from a snapshot of life in 1950s America to a new "normal" insanity for the professional class today, one that we know is there but have never stopped to think about, perhaps because, as Conley says, we're too busy scrolling our Blackberries or distracted by the screaming billboards that have colonized public space and even childhood imaginations (his kids trade Pokemon cards, not football cards).

    After pointing out the big picture changes, the book tells us how this happened. Conley explores several possible causes for a cluster of outcomes that make the rich, professional family today different from their counterpart a half century ago.

    I don't know how he does it, but Conley manages to synthesize a tremendous amount of information into an extremely readable and entertaining book. From newspaper headlines to scholarly monographs to frequent illustrations from his own experiences, and those of his friends and family, Conley makes the desolation of contemporary life for upper class Americans with status anxiety a very fun read.

    I especially liked the description of how his sister and brother-in-law installed a nanny-cam and discovered their nanny beating their one year-old son, an excellent illustration of Conley's larger argument about how technological and demographic changes -- as he puts it, women's increased participation in the workforce and increased earnings -- have converged to produce the changes he documents, often with great wit.

    My quibble with the book are a small number of passing dismissive references to "left" analysis of these changes. One sentence that bothered me was where he attributed rising inequality in wealth to technological changes, and not, 'as the left would have it, tax policy'-- I'm paraphrasing because I don't have the book in front of me. (The two are not mutually exclusive, of course.) Anyway, my own left politics make me sensitive to a tone that others will no doubt appreciate.

    Bottom line: fun book that has a lot of information....more info
  • not very deep
    This book is somewhat shallow and superficial; the author has not thought through or researched his arguments particularly well. I bet the author did not spend very much time writing the book. One particularly annoying venture is the author's flip from sociology to economics in the conclusion, where he proposes a net worth tax as a solution to the elsewhere society. Net worth taxes are fundamentally unjustified (what service is the government providing that is proportional to your savings beyond FDIC that you already pay for?), unfair (taxing people who save or are responsible to subsidize those who consume), and economically destructive for an individual (you lose to the ability to save for your own future and become dependent upon the government) and for a country (it is well documented in Europe that the tax raises little money and causes both emigration of the well educated and capital flight). Sweden, a country that rarely sees a tax it doesn't like even got rid of it. But the author wants it here without thinking about or researching it.

    Even the sociology is anecdotal and not well thought through. I didn't love Supercapitalism by Robert Reich as it had too much of a left wing bias for me, but that book described the same phenomenon with a related explanation and was much more thoroughly researched and thought out. If you want a left wing perspective on the transition from 1950s America to today, Supercapitalism is a much better book....more info
  • A Good Review Of What Has Caused Modern Social Stress
    Offering a thorough explanation as to why, in the times we are in, higher pursuits of knowledge and creativity have been replaced by pursuits of monetary gain and superficial trivialities, /Elsewhere U.S.A./ gives insight into our deteriorating culture and selves. Conley has observed and recorded, over his years as a sociologist, how people's lives have become not so much lives, but, rather, muddled streams that go and go and go, but never get anywhere. Serenity, as explained in /Elsewhere, U.S.A./, has all but disappeared, and has been replaced by constant action, much of it pointless. Even when we settle down and rest for the evening, we still may as well be clocked in at the job, for we are still working--on a laptop, on a Blackberry, on an iPhone--we are still going and going, but not getting anywhere. We never get anywhere, we never get to the place where we can put work down and just spend time with the family. We never get to the place where we can stop going.

    In a sobering and fearlessly honest account of our lives, of your life, Conley shows us that even though we're always busy, we're never really doing anything; He also shows us why we act in that manner. A must-read for any busybodies (and, even though one might like to think otherwise, that is the majority of us) that wish to calm their lives down, /Elsewhere, U.S.A./ can provide the Stop Sign that is so desperately needed on the road of life....more info
  • a mirror to life as dual income professionals
    This book may have well been special ordered to help my family understand our lives and struggles. Conley and I seem to share more then a few things, born in 1969, degrees in sociology, 2 school age children, and married to high achieving professional women. We also seem to share a love for our work and a wonder about how the line between work and family has blurred (as I sit here Sunday evening with my laptop pecking out book reviews while my girls dance around me). The premise of Elsewhere USA is that highly educated professionals (particularly those of us raising kids or taking care of dependents) are defined by gifts and obligations inherent in the tension between nurturing careers and nurturing our families. We love our work, but since we deal in concepts, knowledge and persuasion it is not always clear if produce anything solid. Therefore, we are spurned to work more, in order to justify to others our value and to accrue the knowledge and social capital necessary to insure mobility in the knowledge economy. Nights and weekends are spent one eye on the laptop, one-eye on the kids, never quite being totally focussed on either but keeping both going. Separating work and family is increasingly unrealistic, as both spheres demand time and energy in bursts or at unpredictable times, and neither can be "put aside" to focus on any single demand. Conley's recommendation is to give up worrying about role conflict, and embrace the duality and dynamism of a hybrid work/family life. Once the laptop has been opened it cannot be shut (and really - who would want to as it brings such interesting information and networks). Besides, this is the world our kids will live in as well....and it is through watching how we handle the juggle that they will learn to be flexible and hopefully find work that is their passion (as they will do so much of it in their lives).

    Grade: A-...more info