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Bookmarks Issue: 
40-May-June-2009
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How We Got from the Company Man, Family Dinners, and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, BlackBerry Moms, and Economic Anxiety

A-Elsewhere USASociologist Dalton Conley, author of the memoir Honky (2001), takes time out from his busy life to tell us how changes in the economy, the family, and technology have created a new breed of white-collar workers.

The Topic: Just over a decade ago, Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote his treatise on meditation and mindfulness, Wherever You Go, There You Are. On the other side of the psychological divide, Dalton Conley maps out Elsewhere, U.S.A., an indeterminate place where multitasking is a mundane fact of life, economic inequality makes college graduates increasingly anxious about their jobs, and mobile technologies have demolished the traditional nine-to-five job. Conley doesn’t prescribe a solution. Instead, he offers a new crop of buzzwords—"convestment" (investment + consumption); "weisure" (work + leisure); and "intraviduals" (BlackBerry-dependent mothers and fathers who rely on constant movement to let them know where they are)—to help us describe our rapidly changing, dislocated world.
Pantheon. 221 pages. $24. ISBN: 0375422900

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Conley is a fine cartographer of this change, especially as he maps women’s status in big-earning couples, and the divide that’s widening between professionals scrambling to buy more status goods while service workers toil longer just to keep food on the table. He overgeneralizes occasionally about differences between the haves and have-nots, but his important point still gets made: We’re all in this mess together." Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Dalton brings a familiar analysis up-to-date and makes it engagingly fresh with sharp observations and lucid, concise prose. Along the way, he offers insights that could be mined profitably by a social novelist with Tom Wolfe-like ambitions." David Billet

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"The parts of the book that feel true also feel very familiar, while the rest feels less like a coherent argument than a series of disconnected riffs on The Way We Live Now. Call it stand-up sociology." Jennifer Schuessler

Newsday 3 of 5 Stars
"Elsewhere is a measured mix of social science, first-person reporting and historical research that is sometimes awkward but ultimately compelling. … [He] escapes the textbooky trappings that plague the books of many academics." Kelly McMasters

Los Angeles Times 2 of 5 Stars
"Conley, Conley, Conley: You want to shake him and then say, ‘Run along home. Your house is on fire.’ You forgive him entirely for using a book to sort through his own ‘personal troubles.’ He’s raised some good warning flags but is desperately short on reasonable replacement models like, for example, just don’t buy a BlackBerry, or, check your e-mail only twice a day." Susan Salter Reynolds

New York Times 1.5 of 5 Stars
"[A] talk-show-ready treatise on the gnawing sense of dislocation in contemporary American society. … Mr. Conley makes superficial sense, in that he tells readers what they already know." Janet Maslin

Critical Summary

A busy professional with an equally busy spouse—he is Chair of New York University’s Sociology Department; his wife is experimental designer Natalie Jeremijenko—Dalton Conley lives the multiple lives he describes. Most critics think he has honed a forward-looking book that successfully combines personal anecdote and hard science. Even if his ideas are not cutting-edge, he is a "lively if sometimes overheated writer" (New York Times Book Review) who presents a snapshot of our times that some of those "intraviduals" might actually read on the morning commute. Conley’s penchant for coining new expressions and his ability to synthesize discrete strands of information draw a few comparisons to the work of Malcolm Gladwell. That’s not necessarily a good thing, though, as some critics feel Conley is more interested in creating lingo than in figuring out where Elsewhere is really at.