The steam eye mask reflects a constant conflict in the first quarter of 21st century-the hustle culture and the pursuit of wellness. People are struggling with the two diverse concepts, debating one person should firmly believe hustle culture or prioritize wellness to wealth. Far more than an object, the symbol of steam eye mask is, in fact, connected to very current issues in our current society.

Steam Eye Mask by virtualtimecapsule on Sketchfab

Although the steam eye mask is an usual object that is designed to relieve people from screen fatigue, there are several themes underlined that reveals what challenges and changes resulting from digitalization in the first half of the 21st century. There is no question that  digitalization has been profoundly reshaping our lives, in particular to work. Computers, smartphone and the other new information and communication technologies (ICTs) replace traditional files and paper, taking over our workplace and accomplish many possibilities like virtual meeting and remote work. However, it also leads to overwork. Although the well-known economist, John Maynard Keynes, envisioned that people only need to work 15 hours a week in 2030 due to the technological development and gradually have a substantial time devoting to leisure activities (Szabó-Szentgróti et al., 2021), people in 2022 are mostly struggling in the unlimited working hours including those who have side hustles. Similarly, many scholars have also confirmed that digitalization can contribute to overall intensification of work and overworking (Peña-Casas et al., 2018). Moreover, chances are high that workers tend to work beyond their limits, burning out and severely harming their health and personal relationship (Pérez-Zapata et al., 2016). Therefore, in the trends of digitalization, we can see two conflicted issues that have been prevalent in the digital era—hustle culture and wellness.

hustle Culture

The steam eye mask is often used to combat screen fatigue. Screen fatigue is a common effort of looking at the screen for too long (Hartl, 2021) and the long working hours due to the hustle culture is one of the reasons. When discussing hustle culture, prioritizing career over other areas of life and relationships, Elon Musk is perhaps this generation’s most notable example.  He is frequently quoted as saying, “Nobody ever changed the world on forty hours a week.”  Like his entrepreneurial predecessors, Steve Jobs and other successful business people, he sees working hard as the key to his high-level of achievement and strongly promotes this version of workaholism to others.  For context, hustle culture has varied meaning; however, as it applies to Elon Musk, hustle culture refers to how work dominates people’s time in such an unnatural way that people have little time to live their own lives (Jackson-Gibson, 2021).  Instead of engaging with family and friends or enjoying hobbies, advocates of hustle culture tend to work all day every day to achieve their professional goals and view long working hour as a badge of honor. This type of toxic productivity prioritizes dedication to hard work as is the only way to live a successful and meaningful life.  While individuals like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk have experienced unparalleled success from working harder, smarter and longer than competitors, there are an increasing number of studies that indicate people without the physical or emotional bandwidth to sustain the pressure from the effects of hustle culture are likely to suffer from burnout (Balkeran, 2020). 

Over time, it is difficult to maintain long hours with little sleep, exercise or social interaction before an individual begins to feel the impact of hustle culture and experiences burnout. Ultimately, the very thing that makes a person successful can be the thing that is eroding their physical and mental health.  Neckel et al.(2018) defines burnout as depleting oneself, exhausting one’s physical and mental resources, and wearing oneself out by excessively striving to reach some self-imposed unrealistic expectation or society-dictated unattainable values. Similarly, the World Health Organization (WHO) classifies that burnout is an occupational phenomenon resulting from not being able to appreciate the input, achievement, and intrinsic value of work (Wilkie, 2019).   Hustle culture creates toxic work habits that can erode at an individual’s sense of self-worth and achievement when the person is no longer able to maintain high levels output with limited input. In fact, it is more detrimental than screen fatigue that a simple steam eye mask can soothe. 

People in Japan are dying from overwork

According to the statistics from the WHO (2021), working at least 55 hours a week kills more than 745,000 people a year.   Overworking is known to increase the risk of a stroke by 35 percent and heart disease by 17 percent.  These figures present how dangerous overworking is and it is harmful to companies since employees who work long hours tend to sleep less, make more mistakes, and cost business more in health insurance, high turnover, and sick days (Samuel & Kanji, 2020; Carmichael, 2015). At a micro level, an interesting experiment in the campus of Texas State University has shown the impact of burnout in daily life. In their findings, a five-minute walk to class takes seven minutes for exhausted people and it might turn into a fifteen-minute drudge to include a stop at the nearest campus coffee shop at its worst (Balkeran, 2020). Even an everyday activity ends up to be too much of a task, not to mention the high-intensity and creative work. In fact, studies have pointed out that overwork drastically eliminates people’s creativity and productivity and more researchers reveal the benefit of taking vacation time and work less hour (Onstad, 2017). 

wellness and self-care

Besides hustle culture, the steam eye masks also represent the increasingly awareness of wellness. More people start to take care of themselves whether by doing yoga, having a delicious meal, or taking a short break with steam eye masks. Although wellness has become a popular buzzword for years, It is hard to explain the term as the definition and the concept of the term varies greatly from context to context in the past several decades (Miller, 2005). However, no matter the scope of wellness includes, the term is a consensus that many scholars reached; “health is more than the absence of disease, that health promotion and prevention of disease should be a top governmental and personal priority, and that each individual can and should strive to achieve a state of optimal functioning” (Kirkland, 2014, p.961) In other words, a life merely without illness and medical treatments is not enough anymore. We are eager to expand our physical ability and maintain positive mental health to reach holistic happiness. Instead of a passive attitude, wellness asks people to actively pursue health and self-care might be a start.

People might have a misunderstanding that self-care refers to meditation and yoga as a result of digital mass media and social platform. In fact, the behavior is not important but the purpose it reached. A ten-minute meditation doesn’t help if you don’t have adequate sleep. A thirty-minute yoga doesn’t work if you are distracted by popping messages. The point is you are taking care of yourself and as scholars asserted, engagement in self-care seeks practical results (Denyes et al.,2001). If taking a shower relieves your stress and refreshes your mind, taking a shower is counted as self-care. The method can be more simple than imagined and easy to carry out in daily life, for example, having a walk under sunshine, eating a nutritious lunch with friends, or having a two-day vacation after a busy week, even a twenty-minute break with a steam eye mask. 

self-care meme from

The trend of wellness marks a major shift in the first quarter of the 21st century: people turn to confirm the importance of taking rest instead of ignoring or seeing it as laziness. In comparison to accumulating wealth by hustling, wellness starts a new trend for people to focus their wellbeing and rethink what the most important thing is in their lives.


What the steam eye mask symbolized reveals diverse themes underlined our society and these ongoing issues are still waiting for us to deal with in the 21st century.


Name: Steam Eye Mask

3D Model

Creator: Yin Nien Chiang

Date: 21-01-2022

Place: Maastricht, Netherlands

Themes: Wellness

Captured with CanonEOS250D, tripod, light box
Processed with Agisoft Metashape Professional Software run on Macbook Pro (64 bit)


Physical Object

Size: 18 x 8 cm

Weight: 10 g

Material: Nonwoven fabrics, Heat cell (contains iron powder, activated carbon, water, fragrance)


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