Spending our time, the ultimate scarce resource

On the face of it, The Internet Is Not What You Think It Is: A History, A Philosophy, A Warning by Justin Smith and Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman are pretty different. The former a philosophical disquisition on the parallels (and differences) between historical communication networks and today’s internet of disinformation. The latter a self-help guide to being less busy and happier.

What they have in common is identifying digital platforms as the cuplrit gobbling up our time and attention through addictive design – that familiar ‘swipe down to refresh’ for a dopamine hit – and a business model that requires human fodder. One travels by way of classical Indian philosophers and the Enlightenment, the other via useful advice from popular psychology. Both have at their heart a concern with the manipulation of how we spend our time. I read them one after the other and enjoyed both – and both with more useful insight than the much-hyped Surveillance Capital doorstop.

Have I stopped scrolling so much? Not yet. I will be trying to take some of Burkeman’s advice in the hope of stopping feeling constant pressure to empty that inbox, tick off the whole to do list. As we’re stuck with the internet, it makes sense to resist the way it manages us humans. I don’t think Smith would reckon much for my chances. Wish me luck.

Screenshot 2022-04-28 at 15.53.39Screenshot 2022-04-28 at 15.54.17


Fast or slow, rich or poor?

As part of my thinking about a book I’m currently working on, I started to re-read a book by Jonathan Gershuny, [amazon_link id=”019926189X” target=”_blank” ]Changing Times: Work and Leisure in Post-Industrial Society[/amazon_link] (2000). He has led the way in work on time-use studies, as well as some key longitudinal data sets. It’s the first time I’ve read this book since it was published, and I’d forgotten how interesting it is. As he points out, “Change in time use patterns is not a mere indicator of social change; it is itself part of the essence of socio-economic development. A ‘poor’ society is one which must devote the bulk of its time to low value-added activities which go to satisfy basic wants or needs.” Low value added activities are those where the ratio of paid work per minute of consumption time is low – many hours are needed to deliver the consumption experience.

[amazon_image id=”019926189X” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Changing Times: Work and Leisure in Postindustrial Society[/amazon_image]

All eras of technological progress have brought complaints about things speeding up and being short of time. I was reflecting on how the recent ‘[amazon_link id=”0847829456″ target=”_blank” ]slow food[/amazon_link]’ movement fits into Gershuny’s framework. It seems to be a regression in economic development yet its advocates see ‘slow’ as the most sustainable future for the economy. They are also quite likely to be high- rather than low-income members of the community (as are the buyers of organic foods). Maybe these slow fooders are sufficiently affluent that their time spent providing for the basic need of eating is effectively leisure rather than work, a hobby not a necessity. Anyway, I shall carry on reading and see if I’m further enlightened on this question.

[amazon_image id=”0847829456″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should Be Good, Clean, and Fair[/amazon_image]