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Why is everyone so busy?

From The Economist:

The problem, then, is less how much time people have than how they see it. Ever since a clock was first used to synchronise labour in the 18th century, time has been understood in relation to money. Once hours are financially quantified, people worry more about wasting, saving or using them profitably. When economies grow and incomes rise, everyone’s time becomes more valuable. And the more valuable something becomes, the scarcer it seems.

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So being busy can make you rich, but being rich makes you feel busier still. Staffan Linder, a Swedish economist, diagnosed this problem in 1970. Like Becker, he saw that heady increases in the productivity of work-time compelled people to maximise the utility of their leisure time. The most direct way to do this would be for people to consume more goods within a given unit of time. To indulge in such “simultaneous consumption”, he wrote, a chap “may find himself drinking Brazilian coffee, smoking a Dutch cigar, sipping a French cognac, reading the New York Times, listening to a Brandenburg Concerto and entertaining his Swedish wife—all at the same time, with varying degrees of success.” Leisure time would inevitably feel less leisurely, he surmised, particularly for those who seemed best placed to enjoy it all. The unexpected product of economic progress, according to Linder, was a “harried leisure class”.

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Alas time, ultimately, is a strange and slippery resource, easily traded, visible only when it passes and often most highly valued when it is gone. No one has ever complained of having too much of it. Instead, most people worry over how it flies, and wonder where it goes. Cruelly, it 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 years soon bleed together and end up rushing past, with the most vibrant memories tucked somewhere near the beginning. And of course the more one tries to hold on to something, the swifter it seems to go.

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