Ginia Bellafante has a piece in the New York Times about the sale of Lord & Taylor to WeWork, and its cultural significance.
She she notes, there’s a sad inversion at work here.
In their infancy and well into the first 80 years or so of the 20th century, department stores were largely places to pass the hours. When Lord & Taylor opened on Fifth Avenue and 38th Street it featured three dining rooms, a manicure parlor for men and a mechanical horse that could walk, trot or canter…. Today, of course, shopping is something else entirely, not a diversion but just an extension of our working or “productive” lives.
So while shopping has become less like leisure and more like work, work (or at least certain kinds of work) are trying to dress themselves up as leisure– or at least obliterate the boundaries between work and life:
“WeWork’s mission is to help people make a life, not just a living,’’ as one of its executives recently explained in a news release. The tech sensibility, which has leaked into so many other industries, imagines distinctions between work and private life as benighted. You are always working — posting to Instagram your vacation pictures in Bali, where you also happen to be sourcing materials for your new app-distributed small-furniture line — and you are always living.
With the rise of the internet, shopping came to look like work, and work, in many instances, came to look like leisure, which is why WeWork’s purchase of the Lord & Taylor building has a resonance beyond the obvious.