“What do you do all day?” children often ask their working parents. The activities of all but the most obvious occupations — butcher, baker, candlestick maker — can be especially mysterious and abstract, and not just to children. Brand supervision coordinator? Rocket scientist?
The question has spawned numerous books, including Richard Scarry’s children’s classic What Do People Do All Day? and Studs Terkel’s great oral history, Working (1974). In The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Alain de Botton explores some of the increasingly specialized fields of the workaday industrialized world — cargo shipping, snack food product development, accountancy, airplane parts. He laments that most of us are woefully ignorant of, indifferent to, and disconnected from “the manufacture and distribution of our goods” and, indeed, from the machines and processes that facilitate our lives.