Monday, December 29, 2014

I know you are not a busy person. Why? You are reading this!

Back when I was young--ah, those years that were so long ago--even when I was merely agnostic, I was convinced that there was nothing after death.  A conviction that there was, literally, only life to live.  Then, kaput. Gone. And, therefore, I didn't want to live a life that I did not want to and do something for a living that did not interest me.

I thank the cosmos (though the cosmos couldn't care whether or not I exist) for such an understanding early enough in my life.  

The way I earn my paycheck now is exactly how I would like to earn my paycheck--of course, a few more dollars will always help, but this is plenty enough.  "Plenty enough" in dollars is nothing compared to what I could/would have earned had I continued on with engineering.  But, this plenty enough provides me with a hassle-free life.  And has always provided me with an abundance of a commodity that no amount of dollars can buy--time.
Everybody, everywhere seems to be busy. In the corporate world, a “perennial time-scarcity problem” afflicts executives all over the globe, and the matter has only grown more acute in recent years, say analysts at McKinsey, a consultancy firm.
Incredibly busy many affluent people are.

A couple, who are a gazillion times wealthier than I will ever be, commented to me when we met before my Ecuador trip, "you are lucky that professors have a long summer break for such travels. We have no time."  I thought to myself that with all their wealth they could easily not work for another second in their lives and travel all they wanted to; but they choose not to because they equate not working with gazillons foregone.
When people see their time in terms of money, they often grow stingy with the former to maximise the latter.
But, unlike what we think, the problem is not entirely new either:
Writing in the first century, Seneca was startled by how little people seemed to value their lives as they were living them—how busy, terribly busy, everyone seemed to be, mortal in their fears, immortal in their desires and wasteful of their time. He noticed how even wealthy people hustled their lives along, ruing their fortune, anticipating a time in the future when they would rest. “People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy,” he observed in “On the Shortness of Life”, perhaps the very first time-management self-help book. Time on Earth may be uncertain and fleeting, but nearly everyone has enough of it to take some deep breaths, think deep thoughts and smell some roses, deeply. “Life is long if you know how to use it,” he counselled.
A wise Seneca observed the rich rushing around complaining about not having enough time, and this pretentious blogger also observes the same.  Perhaps we even observe these only because we are sitting quietly not rushing around chasing money!

But, once I turn my attention away from the affluent population, which includes me, and consider, for instance, the lives of the non-traditional students in my classes, then I notice a difference--those students are also incredibly short of time because they juggle school with work and family, and barely have any leisure time.  They, unfortunately, seem to lack both money and time.
Ultimately, more people at the top are trading leisure for work because the gains of working—and the costs of shirking—are higher than ever before. Revealingly, inequalities in leisure have coincided with other measures of inequality, in wages and consumption, which have been increasing steadily since the 1980s. While the wages of most workers, and particularly uneducated workers, have either remained stagnant or grown slowly, the incomes at the top—and those at the very top most of all—have been rising at a swift rate. This makes leisure time terribly expensive.
So if leisureliness was once a badge of honour among the well-off of the 19th century, in the words of Thorsten Veblen, an American economist at the time, then busyness—and even stressful feelings of time scarcity—has become that badge now. To be pressed for time has become a sign of prosperity, an indicator of social status, and one that most people are inclined to claim.
Let's see: those with gazillions are working even harder because they value their "free time" as way too much money to be lost, and those struggling for paychecks are working even harder because they cannot afford to take time off.  Isn't something seriously wrong with this picture?
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.
The faster does time fly as we age, and as we rush around.  But, it will all end; after all, as I like to say, we all come with our own expiration dates.  Perhaps there are those who will think in their death-beds,  "instead of watching the sunset, I am so glad I spent a couple of additional hours in the office in order to earn more."

I, for one, am so glad that I have the time to watch the river flow by, the birds chirp, the sun set, the children scream, the adults yak in their cellphones, the older folks shuffle along.

If you behave well, I will even spend some of that time with you ;)



Shachi said...

Took an unplanned week of vacation to spend "time" with family - kids, parents, sister and her 4-month old - it's blissful!

Shachi said...

Spend less, work moderate, enjoy the present - is going to be my theme going forward.

Ramesh said...

Yayayayayay. I have all the time in the world.

As for the "super busy" executives, this is what they do.

Sriram Khé said...

Well ... ok, I am preaching to the choir, as they say ... ;)

In these contexts, I am often reminded of the word "cherish" that captures more than what "enjoy" conveys, Shachi ... yes, cherish the present (and the past too, without which we won't be where we are) and have an awesome 2015 with the new theme.

Ramesh has all the time in the world as a retired "super busy" corporate honcho who called it quits because he apparently could not handle yet another meeting with his underlings ;) May his laziness extend into 2015 and beyond!

vayu said...

a few paragraphs seem to have been taken from Economist art on a similar sub dt 12/20/14. but i do not see any ref to the art!!

Sriram Khé said...

Of course, it is from the Economist--hence, the hyperlinks to the Economist piece.

The art, which is Salvador Dali's piece, is all about memory and time ... which is what this blog-post is about ...

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