Time is money. The truth is we have definetely more time today than 100 years ago. Not just lifetime, but also in our daily life. Our kids get more attention than ever, we are also every time every richer. But nevertheless we say all the time, that we have no time. That is one point of a new documentary, but the other is that we work for companies for free, wasting our time without getting anything for it and without realizing that we are somehow “employed”.
“Time Thieves” is about the new capitalism to be more and more efficient to save money and time from part of the company using the client as part of the staff. We interview the author and director of his movie Cosima Dannoritzer.
“I am busy” is the standard phrase of our time. But in reality, we have more time than ever. What is wrong with us? And why do we worry all the time about “wasting time”?
It is true, studies show that the typical working day has become much shorter over the past decades. For instance, factory shifts used to be 10 or even 12 hours and people used to work six or seven days a week. Now, we have more free time, but we are also much more aware that this time could be used productively in some way, be it working for some extra money or acquiring a new skill or doing exercise. “Time is money” is the mantra of our times and has even started taking over our personal and social lives.
What is the story of your film and how did it occur to you?
I was looking for a flight, and after processing the booking and making the payment I had to go and print out my boarding pass. At the airport, I checked in my luggage myself, using a machine. The airline had charged me a service fee and the question occurred to me: Who should pay whom? At a hotel in the US I had to cook my own breakfast; at another they asked me to strip the bed and take the sheets to the laundry basket before checking out. Companies have discovered the consumer as what they call a “partial employee”, meaning we contribute to the production or the finishing of a product. A lot of the things we have to do at the airport, for instance, used to be done by paid employees. So at the airport they steal our time, and we are actually stealing somebody’s job.
I’ve only seen the trailer of the film but the whole idea reminds me a bit of Momo…. am I right?
“Momo” is a great book and captures the idea perfectly, not only the idea of “time thieves” but also the fact that our time is precious and limited.
How to avoid “time thieves”, or stop ourselves from wasting time?
We need to become more aware of the value of our time – both to ourselves in our personal lives as well as to businesses – and learn to recognise the “time thieves“, in other words, the moments when a company is trying to steal time from us. For instance, this self-service restaurant where I have to be my own waiter really cheaper than the one next door that still employs staff? Am I happy to pay something with money AND time (for instance, when buying furniture at IKEA or joining a long queue for a discount)? This might make sense when I’m strapped for cash but on another occasion, I might choose to pay slightly more and use the saved time for something that is more important to me.
Should we be more mindful?
I think it’s important to give ourselves some space to do “nothing” ever so often. We are human beings and not machines and actually need those breaks to function fully. Try setting aside some time every week to do “nothing”, even if it’s just a couple of hours, or leave the house early instead of rushing straight to the bus stop. The result will probably surprise you: you’ll be more open to new ideas and discoveries, and life will be richer as a result. What is the definition of “nothing” anyway? What’s wrong with spending time with family, cooking a long slow dinner, or stopping in the street to assist somebody in need? As Robert Levine, one of the interviewees in my film points out, all this rushing around is bad for us and for society because we end up being less helpful to people, not to mention the damage to our health.
With regard to youngsters who use a lot of technical devices to “waste time”, do you think this is having a negative impact on the long run?
First of all, there is a certain contradiction in hearing people say that they never have enough time and then they spend several hours every day on social networks. Apparently, we spend four hours a day on average on these sites. Some teenagers – and even adults! – are glued to their smartphones every free second of the day, including on their bikes while waiting for the traffic lights to change! I think there is a danger that in the long run, this is going to turn us into less sociable people because we will lose the habit of looking around us and connecting with people without some kind of technology acting as a go-between.
Which nations are the worst at handling time?
I wouldn’t want to generalise but in the industrialised nations time has been re-defined as a natural resource, to be exploited for maximum profit, just like any other natural resource, be it oil or water or rare earths. As a result, we have become so obsessed with time and productivity that this is leading to a whole new level of extremes, such as companies in the US and in Europe restricting bathroom breaks for staff, or workers in Japan and elsewhere dying from depression and burn-out (the Japanese word “karoshi” literally means “death from overwork”).