“Oh Dear! Oh Dear! I Shall be Late!”

3 Oct

“Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” (From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)

“Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.”- Harvey MacKay

There are countless quotes and references to time. Most of these references relate to how we use our allotted time in this life. The ability to ponder time is a bit of a luxury and, arguably, a concept people who work two and three jobs to support a family don’t have “time” to think about.

In his book, The Geography of Time, social psychologist, Robert Levine references an anthropological study comparing a tribe of indians with French workers. The French, as it turned out, spent more time at work and consuming “things” but had considerably less free time than the Machiguenga workers. This was true in many developed countries. Workers in these “evolved” countries initially experienced a time surplus (due to the inventions of washing machines, cars and telephones) and ultimately to a “time famine”. “As a result of producing and consuming more, we are experiencing a scarcity of time.” Johnson said. The value of western society, or at least American society is producing and consuming. Time spent not producing or consuming is increasingly viewed as wasted in this society, Johnson argued.

America became an economy based upon consumerism after WWII. At the end of World War II, America had a large number of manufacturing plants available that had been geared to the war effort. Following the war, the tank factories returned to making domestic cars. Textile mills making military uniforms could begin making cloth for fashion. Chemical labs could produce plastic, cosmetics, and toys. Simultaneously, Madison Avenue learned the power of a new emerging medium – television. With this new, mass media, advertisers could reach millions of people and the reactions were clear. The consumer economy had begun. The media and financial institutions all encourage the consumption habit. Banks make billions on credit card debt.

As residents of the developed or western world, we seem to have a voracious appetite for stuff. That stuff plants us firmly in a vicious cycle like the one described in the anthropological study cited above. We work more and more hours in order to buy more and more stuff. Even buying the stuff takes precious time away from activities that could really be more self nurturing than wandering through malls or cyber shopping. I point no fingers here since I’m a culprit of this behavior as well, more so as it relates to my children.

Perhaps one of the side benefits (if we can find any silver linings) in this perilous economic time, is that we can’t spend money with abandon. We can’t be the brand-a-holics we have been and allowed our children to be. Have you noticed any changes in your “free time” as you spend less time at the mall or shopping on line? How have you used this extra time? I would love to know.

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