When I was young expectations for the future were different. The view from the 1950’s and 60’s defined progress as the measure of free time available for indulging personal interests. Technology was about increasing productivity so we could do more with less, as in less time. Looking ahead to the year 2000 it was expected we would achieve a 30-hour workweek, some even suggested a 20-hour. The result would be a life dedicated to more social and interactive pursuits. Our personal goals, and Western society’s collective goal, focused on the pure joy of choosing how to spend our time in a less demanding and less frantic world.

What happened? How were the desires of an entire generation, supposedly in control of its destiny, altered so dramatically? It’s a simple question but it boils down to the proposition that we, as individuals, changed, and it happened so gradually we didn't even see it coming.

Today work often displaces family – and our friends are more likely to be colleagues than neighbours. We not only spend longer in the workplace we bring it home with us.

Another change, perhaps even more surprising, is that even when we are home, less time is considered “free”. A significant portion is devoted to solving problems relating to today’s complex high-speed lifestyles.

Governments of all levels, for instance, require detailed information to satisfy their data hungry bureaucracies. Income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, medical insurance premiums, vehicle registration, water and sewer bills, along with a myriad of personal exemptions, deductions, surcharges, all have challenges attached, often relating to arguments involving mistakes or disputes from either party. Multiple methods of communication have placed severe deadline demands on our time, with no excuses for tardiness.

And once our government commitments are in order we can get down to the business of corporate demands. Vehicle insurance, house insurance, life and disability insurance, warranties for every appliance and fixture in the house, power bills, phone bills, internet bills, television provider bills, and they come with the same built-in exemptions, deductions, surcharges and arguments over what applies to who and how much.

Last but certainly not least, of course, is the finance sector. How’s the bank account? Is our budget on track? Can we pay all of the bills this week or will we have to hold some over until next? How are all of the payment plans? Are the mortgages, car loans, educational plans, pension funds and saving accounts holding up? What are we going to need for the coming week, month, year, or lifetime?

It’s mind numbing and exhausting – and if you get the immediate stuff all finished that means you finally have time to sit down, get out your instruction book and figure our how to use your new phone, or television service, or programmable thermostat, or that new camera with the zoom lens – but did you remember to fill in the warranty card and send it off?

This wouldn’t be so bad if it gained us something, if there were a pot of gold at the end of this work rainbow. However, not only is that concept defunct but it comes in the midst of increased downsides… such as declining health.

Our present day lives destroy our bodies. Even when we find some “spare” time we are too tired or poorly conditioned to take part in any physical activity beyond a gentle stroll. When you combine this lack of fitness with our continued exposure to an array of strange substances ingested in our foods, and the equally strange stuff we inhale from such things as new cars and household cleaners, we are pushing our immune systems to the breaking point.

On top of this, the daily stress of deciphering the myriad facts surrounding every important decision in our life is now magnified because we can no longer determine whether the information we are using is either true or complete. What is healthy food, who should be in our government, is religion important, which religion, is this drug going to save me or kill me – and the end result of all this confusion is that new generations, for the first time in history, have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Is this an improvement?

Why, in the last half century, did our value system about-face and become more about being successful consumers than peaceful and contented social beings? Enough is never enough in today’s world. Our role models and heroes, at least according to our magazine covers and news stories, are the rich and super rich - people who have made more money than they know how to intelligently spend - and the paradox is, many of them (perhaps most) live a life so flakey that few of us would rationally choose it for ourselves. Still, we can’t seem to get enough of them living it.

It seems Western society has morphed into an endless competition for discretionary goods and we race to keep up or be branded “losers”… relegated to a junk pile of human failure. Our lives have shifted into a higher gear, increasing to a speed where most of what we see is a blur. We could opt out and choose counter-culture but that has its own strict hierarchy and guidelines. Meanwhile middle class life is so demanding we have stopped asking basic questions. We only have time to react. It’s all very mindless and, in effect, destructive. At the same time, these new values have become so powerful and universal we can’t shake them without being branded a kook or a weirdo... ultimately an outcast.

People now look back fifty or sixty years and call them the good old days, but the most positive aspect of those days was the expectation for a future where quality social and contemplative pursuits would bring peace and joy to every individual.