Praying for Time

While it is said that the only guarantees in life are death and taxes (and change), the only resource that we can absolutely never replenish is time. As it’s quite often the artists, poets and musicians who succinctly capture the Zeitgeist better than the pundits, commentators and even writers, when I ponder time scarcity I think of lines from three songs:

“So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking/Racing around to come up behind you again” (“Time” by Pink Floyd)

“All around me are familiar faces, worn out places, Worn out faces/Bright and early for their daily races, going nowhere, going nowhere” (“Mad World” by Tears for Fears)

“And the wounded skies above say it’s much, much too late/Well maybe we should all be praying for time” (“Praying for Time” by George Michael)

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In search of lost time? Image courtesy of: Sean MacEntee.

If it’s the artists who are succinct, then it’s the writers who are comprehensive. A recent article in The Economist, “In search of lost time: Why is everyone so busy?”, brings up the concept of “time poverty,” whereby as technology exponentially affords us more time for leisure, we remain as busy as ever because of our perception of time.

The article academically describes a phenomenon readily apparent to those exposed to the disparate cultures of industrialized countries versus the developing ones, where questions of pace and urgency in daily life arise. This phenomenon also pervades what it calls the “harried leisure class,” with the “conundrum of wealth: though people may be earning more money to spend, they are not simultaneously earning more time to spend it in.”

The Great Recession of 2008 brought to the fore some glaring contrasts, to me the greatest of which lies within the European Union. Usually implicit in economic comparisons between the industrious cultures of northern Europe (e.g. Germany, Netherlands and Scandinavia) and the “PIGS” (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) has been the conclusion that the slower, and dare I say lazier, pace of life on the Mediterranean has been proven ultimately unsustainable. So while time is better enjoyed in the cultures of southern Europe, it is better spent in the northern lands.

Traditionally, the northern European middle class, tired of their grey skies and workaday lives, validated their toil and trouble with brief August respites on the Mediterranean. Now their countries are financing southern Europeans’ languor.

A separate contrast with American life is even more glaring, as our quality of life has arguably suffered more than anywhere else. Ours is a work culture where “lunches now tend to be efficient affairs, devoured at one’s desk, with an eye on the e-mail inbox. At some point these workers may finally leave the office, but the regular blinking or chirping of their smartphones kindly serves to remind them that their work is never done.”

It seems that the concept of society inevitably becoming ever more hurried remains trite but true, and it is unfortunate that there are no longer jobs available for the educated people in the less hurried cultures, whose lands are reduced to places for rich people to briefly visit and play. But without a shift in perception and paradigm, it seems to me that the writer and the lyricist converge as follows:

“Cruelly, [time] runs away faster as people get older, as each accumulating year grows less significant, proportionally, but also less vivid. Experiences become less novel and more habitual.” (The Economist article)

“Every year is getting shorter; never seem to find the time/Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines” (Pink Floyd)

And we shall be left continuing to pray for time…