A Brief History Of Not Enough Time.

This morning during our commute my wife and I listened to a report on the psychology of time and how leisure time used to be a symbol of status but now, at least in the United States and among certain groups, mainly celebrities and the wealthy who have enough money to buy celebrity, not having enough time to do everything is considered proof they’ve made it. Having fortyleven projects running at the same time and not enough time to do them all is the ultimate sign of success now. Someone whose passion is, say, music, after having put in the ten-thousand hours needed to master their craft, paid their dues, worked their way up from the bottom, pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, broken out, broken through, and who are finally able to quit their old day job and take up several new jobs marketing their own brand of croquet equipment and designing a line of solar-powered footwear. Being successful used to mean you could take a little time to yourself and lounge on a beach somewhere, but really, who can blame celebrities for wanting to work on all kinds of projects when the other option is being chased around the beach by paparazzi? And while I’m inclined to say that “success” and “status” are nebulous concepts that should be defined by the individual and not by the society in which we live I know how society is. Any time I suggest that society gets huffy and yells, “You can’t tell me what to do!” What really interests me, though, is that it says something larger about us. Homo sapiens is a naturally multitasking species, and while multitasking is usually a way to get a lot of things done badly and in a half-assed way the truth is we’ve managed to do some pretty amazing things, mostly in a half-assed way, at least in the grand scheme of things. Compared to the entire history of the universe humans have been around such a short time that if all of time were measured as a roll of toilet paper the moment homo sapiens first appeared to the present day would barely be the last millimeter of the roll, although one of the biggest controversies in science today is whether the paper should be placed so it rolls from the top or the bottom. Sharks have been around approximately 450 million years. They’ve survived several mass extinctions, including the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, and yet haven’t even gotten close to discovering fire, although they are at a slight disadvantage being underwater most of the time. We humans have only been around approximately two-hundred thousand years. Seventy or so thousand years ago we were on the verge of extinction in central Africa then a large black box showed up and we started moving.We only began to form what we’d recognize as societies less than ten thousand years ago and written language a little over five thousand years ago. We’ve occupied every part of the planet, a feat only matched by bacteria and viruses, and only because they had a major head start but have still failed to advance beyond the discovery of energy drinks and with any luck we’ll stop using analog clocks by the end of the century because it makes no sense that the hour hand is the smaller one and the minute hand is the larger one.

At this point it’s probably pretty clear what I’m trying to say so I’ll just cut to the chase. And here’s an interesting thing about the expression “cut to the chase”: it dates back to at least 1929 and originated as a film direction to keep the story moving. The funny thing is I really thought it went back farther than that and that there was actually cutting, like with some kind of knife, but that’s another story. What I’m getting at is, we have done an enormous amount of work and there’s so much stuff I feel like I’m missing, so could everyone please just take a break for a while and stop making anything new until I can get caught up on all the books, movies, TV shows, music, and art that we’ve produced so far?

6 Comments

  1. Ann Koplow

    I wish I had more time to make a better comment, Chris, but I’ve got a kashmillion things to do.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’m glad I have just enough time to read this comment.

      Reply
  2. Arionis

    Thanks for the shoutout on my scientific controversy, I think. 🙂 I’ll keep this comment short because I know you probably have fortyleven things to do today. One phrase kept popping up in my head while I read this. “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Have a great weekend Chris!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Earlier this week I was listening to a podcast and a scientist used the toilet paper roll metaphor for time. She could have said “paper towels” but I guess a roll of toilet paper is longer. Anyway it reminded me of your post and I linked to it because in a way you’re a co-author. And so is an internationally respected physicist. And also Arthur C. Clarke. And I riffed on Douglas Adams in there. And then there was the neuroscientist who did the radio report. Yeah, I really didn’t write any of this.

      Reply
  3. Jay

    I feel like I see A LOT of celebrities on vacation pictures. They’re not that busy!
    Also, I think the minute hand needs to be longer, it needs to show precisely whether it’s 2:13 or 2:14

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Making the minute hand longer and also adding the missing numbers for extra precision is a fantastic idea. Although I still think the hour hand should be bigger. An hour is bigger than a minute, right?

      Reply

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