What Are We Saving Time For?

We are constantly saving time. Each day a new ‘time-saving’ device is released, be it a better washing machine, a faster car, a quicker computer, a more efficient hair dryer. With every turn we save a minute, an hour, or, more often, a few seconds. Take this moment to stand up, walk about your room or your house, and see how many things you could apply the moniker ‘time-saving’ to. I can find several in my rather sparse room. But what is this time saved for?

The most obvious answer, and probably the answer intended by every advertisement proclaiming “The latest in time-saving technology!” is that we are saving this time for leisure (the more secretive answer is that we are saving the time so that we can buy more time-saving devices). Now that I have a washing machine, I can throw the clothes in, step back, and be content. Likewise the dishwasher, vacuum cleaner, lint roller, electric razor, microwave, water filter, and so on. They have freed hours in my day for me to, what, lounge about?

I don’t think it takes much imagination to realize that Americans today are not doing much lounging about. Except perhaps for the Fat Cats (and absurdly beautiful women. At least that’s what TV tells me). But the rest of us are rushing about our hectic lives, desperately pursuing . . . something. We throw the food in the microwave because we need to drive over to the school to pick up Michelle from after-school band and bus her and three classmates over to the studio for dance, then it’s on to the dojo to pick up James after Karate and then bring him home in time for piano lessons. Then it’s back out to pick up Michelle (because Kendra’s mother forgot) and Father is late from work (because another meeting had to follow the first to figure out why it didn’t seem to work) and then there’s that ever-so-brief dinner followed by home work and house work and take-home work and every other sort of work. Or hours of television.

Where is the leisure? And don’t tell me TV is leisure. It’s barely entertainment. Proper leisure refreshes the mind, rather than liquefying it. When Josef Pieper says leisure is the basis of culture, one can safely assume he is talking about neither CSI nor Dance Moms.

Thus the time we are saving is not contributing to our lives in any clear way. In fact, it seems that we are saving time solely that we may use it on other time-saving devices. Our coffee brews itself so we have to time peruse the web on our iPads so we can use the trip to work to prepare our presentations so that our lunches can be a chance to catch up on our blogs so that when we get home we can watch our shows we TiVoed and fall asleep having not once done something without a screen.

The problem is not that we don’t know how to use our time, but that we are trying to save our time. We are attempting to gain control over the flow of time, to force the necessary parts of life into smaller and smaller compartments. Yet when we do so, we discover we gain nothing but the need to fill this newly opened time with new ‘necessary’ things, to replace the productive use of our time with wasteful time. How often have we dropped a task to rush to the television to watch our (meaningless) show?

We need to stop saving time and to start embracing it, to start living ever moment that is naturally ours. And that can be done as easily while cooking dinner as it can while contemplating the heavens.

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