Time, time, time; what has become of thee?
In case you hadn’t figured it out, in the final part of my “How did we get here?” series, I’m going to discuss time.
Specifically, why we don’t seem to have enough of it, ever. Or even more specifically, why we don’t perceive ourselves to have enough of it, ever.
For some of us, it’s a genuine thing; there a lot of people out there struggling to make ends meet, working longer hours, multiple jobs, or whatever else they can to keep food on the table and gas in the car.
If you’d asked those people if they had a lot of free time back when things were going well, you’d probably have gotten the same answer:
“No, there’s never enough time to do anything!”
I’ve had conversations with people who don’t even work for a living, who have a very limited set of responsibilities, and yet still perceive themselves to be perpetually short on time.
So what happened?
It’s difficult to pick a single factor, or even a combination of factors, that could have created this situation.
You can blame television, but that sounds rather hollow when you consider how long television has been around at this point. Sure, commercials have gotten shorter and shorter, but the substance of the actual programs hasn’t significantly altered.
You can blame the internet, of course. Let’s admit it; there’s a lot of entertainment out there, most of it is available nearly instantly, and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t lost hours of their life lost in a haze of funny pictures and random facts.
Wikipedia is a hell of a drug.
And sure, there’s also online gaming (or just regular gaming, for that matter) to consider, which has to count as an influence, particularly on the Nintendo Generation and younger. Combine a gaming habit with a television habit, and you’d be amazed how little time those people seem to have for things that aren’t their pre-scheduled entertainments.
You can blame the media. After all, for years we’ve been bombarded with stories about how little time we have, it wouldn’t take much of a stretch to imagine that that constant barrage is exacerbating the situation. And once the situation actually does get worse, well then the media obviously has to ramp up their rhetoric, and push things even further.
The only real answer, once you consider all the factors, is that it’s a pervasive societal malaise; that we’ve been conditioned, in a variety of ways from a variety of sources, to act the way that we act. There are other nations in the world, after all, where this frenzied rushing about is nearly unheard of, and these are nations with television, internet, and while most of them don’t have our borderline self-destructive work ethic, they’re not exactly lying around all day in a sybaritic haze either.
We’re told to expect everything right away; oil change in 30 minutes or less, food on demand, express lanes at the grocery store, carefully chosen and formatted retail displays designed simultaneously to entice a customer inward, and yet also ensure that they can get the exact product they wanted and be out of the store in as little time as possible.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get your errands done as quickly as possible, of course.
Except that maybe there is.
My last post talked about the drawing inward of American society, the increasing breakdown of communal bonds, driven largely by fear, greed, and apathy.
This obsession with time adds another complication into the mix.
Now, people have yet another excuse for why they don’t engage in community activities; they don’t have the time, after all. There are people who make the time, of course, and even entire communities that are reasonably active in that regard, but they’re a lot less common than they used to be.
There’s been a lot of talk lately, from both sides of the political debate, about “bringing back Main Street”, the idea of revitalizing local economies and communities by embracing small business. That’s going to take more than loans and tax breaks, it’s going to take time. Not just the time needed for the shift to occur, but something more.
It’s going to take people realizing that they need to take the time to discover these small businesses, that they need to spend the time there, that they sometimes might need to be patient when dealing with a store that can’t necessarily keep everything in stock, or a gallery that can’t display everything at once, or a performance hall that’s overbooked.
It’s going to take small businesses figuring out how to make people spend their time, how to draw in their customers and make them stay long enough to realize what that business has to offer, what they can do to help, and what effect their patronage has on the local community.
You want the American dream back?
Take some time, and think about how you’re going to make that happen.
Then take the time to act on it.