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.

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

No Time to Waste – Returning to the Good Life

earth-clock-01AS a child the school summer holidays seemed an eternity. Time seemed to pass very slowly. These days as an adult its hard to keep up with all the things one has to do. How many times have you heard people complain we “just don’t have the time”?

Psychologist William James’ explanation is that children experience everything for the first time and that all experiences are new. Their intense perception of the world around them means that times goes slowly. As adults we have fewer new experiences, life is more familiar and less information is taken in and time is less stretched. While there are obvious cognitive psycholgoical explanations to our perception of time there are also other factors at play.

As a child growing up in the 1970s there was only three TV channels which only ran for a limited number of hours. We did not have a computer, mobile phone, video player or DVD to distract us. Most of the time was enjoyed playing out in the streets with other friends. On TV there was a popular sitcom called The Good Life which described the experiences of Tom and Barbara who have had enough of the rat race and decide to become self-sufficient. They convert their garden into a farm, keep pigs and chickens and grow their own crops.the-good-life1

Life seemed a lot simpler back then but perhaps I am looking back through rose-tinted spectacles?. Afterall, I did not have to worry about paying bills, going to work or doing house work. Despite all this, I do feel that life has speeded up.

streetsThis is evident in our breakdown in our sense of community. In the cobbled streets of inner city Salford (UK) where I grew up we knew or had a good idea who lived in the 40-plus houses there. These days I only know three of my neighbours. This is partly due to people being more mobile and not staying in one place too long and partly due to being more private individuals. No longer do we have the time for idle chit chat. Like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland we are rushing around saying we are late.

In his 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 “Grauen Herren”, sinister, ghost-like men who are stealing time. The effects were dramatic. The village barber found that:

he was becoming increasingly restless and irritable. The odd thing was that, no matter how much time he saved, he never had any to spare; in some mysterious way, it simply vanished. Imperceptibly at first, but then quite unmistakably, his days grew shorter and shorter. Almost be­fore he knew it, another week had gone by, another month, and another year, and another and another.”

In his article entitled Time Pollution, Prof. John Whitelegg attempts to explain the paradox that the more people try to save time, the less they seem to have? Whitelegg argues:

Time is central to notions of sustainability. A sustainable city or a sustainable transport policy or a sustainable economy cannot be founded on economic principles which, through their monetarisation of time, orientate society towards higher levels of motorisation, faster speeds and greater consumption of space. The fact that these characteristics produce energy-intensive societies and pollution is only part of the problem. They also distort value systems, elevate mobility above accessibility, associate higher speeds and greater distances with progress, and dislocate communities and social life.”

There is no doubt that our lack of time has contributed to the community disintegration that has been occuring across Europe and other western countries in the last few decades. Perhaps we need to change our perception of time and spend more time being rather than doing. A global recession may provide that window of opportunity to reassess our values and lifestyles and perhaps like Tom and Barbara we can return to the “Good Life” that many of us remember.

© Gary Haq 2009