The Outsourced Life:

Over the last century, the world of services has changed greatly.


A hundred — or even 40 — years ago, human eggs and sperm were not for sale, nor were wombs for rent. Online dating companies, nameologists, life coaches, party animators and paid graveside visitors did not exist.


Nor had a language developed that so seamlessly melded village and market — as in “Rent-a-Mom,” “Rent-a-Dad,” “Rent-a-Grandma,” “Rent-a-Friend” — insinuating itself, half joking, half serious, into our culture. The explosion in the number of available personal services says a great deal about changing ideas of what we can reasonably expect from whom.

Paradoxically, the more we depend on market services — and market logic — the greater its subtle but real power to undermine our intimate life. As the ex-advertising executive and author of “In the Absence of the Sacred,” Jerry Mander, observed, “With commerce, we always get the good news first and the bad news after a while. First we hear the car goes faster than the horse. Then we hear it clogs freeways and pollutes the air.”

The bad news in this case is the capacity of the service market, with all its expertise, to sap self-confidence in our own capacities and those of friends and family. The professional nameologist finds a more auspicious name than we can recall from our family tree. The professional potty trainer does the job better than the bumbling parent or helpful grandparent. Jimmy’s Art Supply sells a better Spanish mission replica kit than your child can build for that school project from paint, glue and a Kleenex box. Our amateur versions of life seem to us all the poorer by comparison.
(See link at top for full New York Times article.)