I can’t prove this, because I don’t know you. What I do know is that something remarkably similar to my hypothetical happened in the U.S. economy in the 20th century—not in factories, or in modern offices. But inside American homes.

The household economy of cooking, cleaning, mending, washing, and grocery shopping has arguably changed more in the past 100 years than the American factory or the modern office. And its evolution tells an illuminating story about why, no matter what work we do, we never seem to have enough time. In the 20th century, labor-saving household technology improved dramatically, but no labor appears to have been saved.

Technologically, the typical American home of 1900 wasn’t so different from the typical home of 1500. Bereft of modern equipment, it had no electricity. Although some rich families had indoor plumbing, most did not. Family members were responsible for ferrying each drop of water in and out of the house.