The Garfield Effect: A Modern Epidemic

Excerpt from a past edition of OhioTraveler

The Threat Posed

Perpetually hungry, loves sleeping, and hates Monday.

I just described a popular cartoon cat named Garfield, but you surely aren’t alone if you related to that description a bit more than you wanted to. It’s this relatability that sprung Garfield into fame in 1978 and allows him to remain a household name over 40 years later.

One of his most universally relatable traits is the last one: His hatred of Monday. This is a commonly shared sentiment, as for most people it symbolizes our fleeting 48 hours of freedom halting to a grim end.

However, what may seem like a harmless, relatable joke in a cat comic actually points to an increasingly prevalent societal issue; something I like to call The Garfield Effect. This refers to the steady decline of the weekend as we know it, as it creeps closer and closer to oblivion.

That may sound dramatic, and that’s because it is. In theory, a two day break should rejuvenate us, making us feel more refreshed and ready than ever to work; yet most people feel just the opposite. This is due to The Garfield Effect. Rather than use the weekend as it was designed—for relaxation and leisure—people frequently use it to catch up on work, leaving them tired and ill-equipped to deal with the full work week ahead. This is why Garfield is far from alone when he says “I hate Monday.”

Fully understanding this epidemic first requires an understanding of its history, which actually begins long before the more recent conception of the weekend.

The Ancient Work Day

In ancient civilizations, including those of the Mayans and the Hopi, time was perceived as cyclical rather than linear, operating as a kind of wheel. This was a reflection of the world that the ancients observed around them, bound by cycles of predictable patterns. Accordingly, work also followed this natural ebb and flow of time. Tasks were correlated with the organic cycles that defined them: Farmers worked in accordance with the seasons, and fishermen in accordance with the tides.

This approach to work persisted for a long time. Contrary to popular belief, medieval peasants experienced a plethora of free time compared to the modern worker. For them, the day began at dawn, ended at dusk, and included plenty of breaks. It wasn’t until the 18th century, just over 200 years ago, that this changed.

The First Shift

A number of factors caused this shift, most of which revolved around the Industrial Revolution. Tasks were no longer correlated to natural events, but rather to the artificially contrived “work day.” Time was something to be exploited by corporate interests, and accordingly, this is when the phrase “time is money” accelerated in its usage (which can be seen using Google Ngram Viewer).

This new approach inevitably caused issues, and eventually spiraled into a working landscape that included grueling hours and harsh conditions. People worked between 14 and 16 hours per day for six days a week. Factories were full of dust and smoke. Deformities and diseases developed in workers, especially children. Accidents were frequent. It was far from ideal.

The Birth of the Weekend

This ghastly landscape created a dire need for protection of workers’ rights, which prompted the labor movement. In 1886, on what became known as May Day, hundreds of thousands of workers went on strike in demand of an eight hour work day. This was the first of many efforts to win this right. There was still a long fight ahead.

It wasn’t until 1926, when Henry Ford adopted a five-day work week, that this less aggressive approach was given much thought. Ford’s argument was that people with more free time would require more transportation, and hence, would buy more cars. Finally, in 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which cemented the 40-hour, 5-day work week. The weekend had been born.

The Second Shift

Not long after this pivotal policy was enacted, another shift began to occur. This one revolved around the advent of modern technology; most notably, the internet.

Artificial light had already made it easy to stay up past dark and wake up before light, but devices such as computers and smartphones caused an even greater disturbance in our general working hours. People are now constantly “on the clock,” expected to keep up with work demands at every hour of the day, every day of the week. Being perpetually plugged-in leaves workers feeling anxious and stressed, inhibiting their ability to properly wind down.

The Emergence of The Garfield Effect

Weekends were introduced partially as a way of protecting leisure, which is a necessary ingredient in the recipe for productivity. Without this, the risk for eventual job burnout increases drastically.

Despite the obvious benefits of leisure, people are opting for a more work-oriented weekend, with a state of constant “busy-ness” becoming a sort of status symbol. Perceived success is now—incorrectly—associated with how busy someone is.

This is getting in the way of people enjoying the weekend as it should be enjoyed, and according to the American Time Use Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, people now spend less than one hour socializing on the weekend. Furthermore, According to a global Harris Poll, the United States reported the longest hours second only to Mexico. These reports may not even include tasks such as checking email or going overtime to meet a deadline.

As a result, the “typical” 40 hour work week is better described as “atypical.” An outlier. The weekend as we know it is disappearing, and we’re letting it.

A Call to Action

The fight for the weekend took centuries to win, so reclaim our leisure and once again fill our parks with good company and conversation. Battle against The Garfield Effect, and plan a picnic!

By Cara Satullo

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