The Scourge of Time Poverty

WE seem to be in a constant battle against time – fighting to fit everything into our busy schedules. So much so that many of us suffer from “time poverty” – not having enough hours to do what we want. And “time pollution” has now become a feature of our modern way of living.

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WE seem to be in a constant battle against time – fighting to fit everything into our busy schedules.

So much so that many of us suffer from “time poverty” – not having enough hours to do what we want. And “time pollution” has now become a feature of our modern way of living.

The monetary value we place on time has caused us to pursue faster speed and higher levels of motorisation and consumption.

This has resulted in us engaging in socially and environmentally-damaging activities. Paradoxically, the more time we save, the less we seem to have.

In his fantasy novel, Momo, Michael Ende wrote about a mysterious young orphaned girl, who arrives in a small town and notices that the inhabitants are starting to change, becoming obsessed with time and money.

Momo discovers that the culprits are the “time thieves” – sinister, ghost-like men who are stealing time.

This has dramatic effects on the residents, who become increasingly restless and irritable. No matter how much time they saved, they never had any to spare. Before they knew it, another week had gone by, another month, and another year.

As a child, my perception of time was very different from the one I have today. Then the school summer holidays seemed like an eternity – time passed very slowly.

As an adult, it’s hard to keep up with all the things one has to do. Psychologist William James put children’s perception of time down to them experiencing everything for the first occasion. Their intense perception of the world around them means that time goes slowly.

As adults we have fewer new experiences, life is more familiar, less information is taken in and time is less stretched. While there are obvious psychological explanations of our perception of time, there are also other societal factors at play.

Growing up in the 1970s, there were fewer gadgets and activities we could waste time on compared with today. We did not have multi-channel 24-hour television, nor did we have a computer, mobile phone, DVD player or game box to distract us. Most of the time was enjoyed playing in the streets with friends.

Life seemed a lot slower and simpler back then, but perhaps I am looking back through rose-tinted spectacles. After all, I did not have to worry about paying bills, going to work or doing housework.

Nowadays, life has gone high speed, with our lack of time contributing to community breakdown.

In the cobbled street where I grew up in Salford (UK), we knew or had a good idea who lived in the 40-plus houses. These days, I know only a handful of neighbours. This is partly because of people being more mobile and more private.

And, like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, many of us are constantly running around muttering that we are late. We are more likely to have a virtual conversation with a total stranger on the other side of the world via Facebook and Twitter than engage in idle chitchat, face to face with our neighbours.

As a society, we have invented numerous ways of saving time. From high-speed trains, fast cars and planes to fast food and all the technologies we use to cut the time it takes to do things. This has resulted in highly energy-intensive and polluting activities.

When people have free time they use it to consume and travel more. We know that many baby boomers are enjoying cosmopolitan lifestyles in their retirement using their “free time” to visit far-flung destinations.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s idea of the Big Society is based partly on the premise that people have the time and the will to get involved in community activities such as running a pub or post office. To do this, we will need to change our attitude to time and how we spend it.

A “Slow Movement” is developing that addresses the issue of “time poverty” by encouraging people to do things at the right pace. It promotes slow food, slow gardening, slow money, slow sex and slow travel. The recession is seen as the perfect time to escape the vicious circle of speed which has taken over our lives.

Time is central to the notion of a greener future. If we are to address the issues of time poverty and time pollution we need to reassess the value we place on time.

Slowing down can help improve the quality of life, making it more enjoyable, happier and greener.

It provides an awareness of the preciousness of every minute, hour and day of our limited lifetime – something we should all enjoy before it’s too late.

© Gary Haq 2011

Photo credits: Shutterstock

Author: garyhaq

I am a Human Ecologist, writer, researcher and broadcaster interest in contemporary environmental issues.

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