Time — or lack thereof — is a rising concern of more Americans, according to a recent poll. Not coincidentally, as Jeremy Rifkin points out in his new book, Time Wars, time measurements for what people do and how people act are becoming more intense and subject to control. The word “nanoseconds” is coming into broader use. No doubt, the culture is speeding up, and people are asking where the time goes.
This isn’t the way it was supposed to be. Back at the beginning of this century, progressive reformers dreamed of the time when workers would have to work only 40 hours a week. The rest of the time they would spend with their families and community activities. Some writers in those days foresaw far more citizen involvement in local, state and national governments because of all that liberated time.
In the late Forties, authoritative reports predicted that the coming of automation in our factories would lead to a “leisure society.” Ah, yes, predictions, predictions. What the seers did not anticipate was the redefinition of a middle-class standard of living by inflation, consumer credit and the multiplicity of products which required two breadwinners in the family. Since the Fifties it has been increasingly difficult for one middle-class breadwinner to provide enough money to own a home. In many areas of the country today, it is more than difficult; it is impossible.
The least heralded, major consumer of time, however, is management of household things and services. The complexity is becoming overwhelming. There are more complex repairs — cars, appliances, electrical, carpentry, plumbing — and there are attachments to attachments (home computers, intricate toys and video games) and there are bewildering amounts of indoor and outdoor equipment, aerosols, applicators and medicines.
There are obscure bills to decipher before paying or before going through the obstacle course of calling the telephone, electric, gas and water company.
To be handled are matters with accountants, financial planners, lawyers, different medical and dental specialists, insurance agents and bank tellers. Forms and applications need to be filled out regularly and irregularly. The credit card and bank statements come monthly with strange interest and bank charges that deserve checking. Things have to be dropped off at stores and picked up at stores.
There are people who phone to sell or to survey you. The mail pours in with letters, flyers and advertisers to sell you items at “fantastic” savings. There are school and street problems for parents and other residents to worry about. Rush, rush, rush!
Of course, many of these demands on one’s time comprise living a modern life with diversity. Somehow, Americans also find the time, polls tell us, to watch an average of 25 hours a week of television. But, between household management duties and television time, not much is left for that historic dream of civic activity. There is just so much to do after work, quite apart from paying adequate attention to neglected children.
The books on managing one’s time are becoming numerous and specialized. But people don’t have the time to read them, judging by their small sales. Other books teach one hundred ways of simplifying one’s life; they sell even fewer copies. Spreading franticism over the Time factor is leading more of the frazzled instead to psychiatrists or addictions.
It is time to take stock and take greater control over the use of one’s time from forces that are eating your days, hours and minutes up in ways you would rather avoid. For if we do not tend to our future as a society and if we do not have time to mend the present, more injustices, irritations and inconveniences will consume more of each day and more of each person’s self determination.