“The passing of time and all of its sickening crimes is making me sad again:”
A Brief History and Analysis of America’s Conception of Time
I’ve long believed that our current conception of time is killing us. Not that the passing of time is killing us, though, biologically, it is, but I’m talking about the way we think about time. As Americans, we strive to be better than what can defeat us, we strive to overcome what can knock us down. Losing has never been an option. We are not allowed to fail, we are not allowed to fall. We strive to be the biggest, the strongest. We strive to beat the clock.
I am oddly fascinated by DVRs, and their role in modern society. With our modern cable boxes, we can add fifteen minutes to each day just by skipping commercials in hour-long show. That’s fifteen more minutes we can spend at work, at school, or on the computer shopping on Amazon. With our modern cable boxes, we don’t have to wait to see who wins the Voice. We can fast-forward through every boring part of our television programming to get to the end, get to the good stuff. I myself am guilty of pushing the forward button during the contestant interviews on Jeopardy. It’s not that I don’t care, (though, really, I don’t,) I just don’t have the patience, the time: I want to get to the Double Jeopardy round, and I want to get there NOW. Luckily, with my remote, I can. Instant gratification.
I often think of my DVR machine as a metaphor for today’s American society. Our DVRs, our reliance on Netflix and Hulu, and other instant streaming applications say so much about us as a Western nation. Not only about our tastes as a culture, but also so much about our values. Time is money. Our lives are no longer defined by Morning, Afternoon and Night, but instead have been divided up into even smaller and smaller increments, making even halves of half-an-hours of utmost importance. We no longer sit in front of the tube and zone out, but need to constantly be in control of not only what we see, but also when we see it.
As a nation once built on Puritan principles, America has long since lost sight of its roots, trading in salvation for material time and wealth. But even in those roots was the seedling for material capitalism aka my idea of evil. The Puritans sought to create in the New World a nation of the elect, because, not unlike modern America, our Christian forefathers believed they were God’s chosen people. Early on we took responsibility as the City on the Hill, a leader for all to follow. As a country, we had a calling, and it was this calling, Max Weber wrote in his essay “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” that was fundamental in America’s development into a capitalist nation. If of whom much is given, much is required, Early Americans put upon themselves the burden of purpose, and with it an idea of things getting better, of progression, of a future. It was then time became real because the future became real.
America, in its emphasis on monetary gain, has begun to treat time as a precious commodity. American society has organized its life around its concept of time as a concrete substance, aiming to maximize not necessarily the quality of time but the quantity. In the US, the man who finishes the fastest always finishes first. As easily as a sheet of paper can represent wealth, time has become money. America views time as something that can be gained and loss, and is in constant struggle to hold on to it. We see the measurement of time, how much we have or do not have left of it, as indicative of our overall potential to succeed. In basing our lives off of it, we become constrained and bound by time.
I am by no way a “spiritual” person, but I find solace in spiritual conceptions of time. My favorite is St. Augustine’s belief that time is not concrete. In his Confessions, Augustine wrote that time was only temporal as long as we perceived it to be, measurable as long as we created divisible increments for it. And create divisible increments we have. To St. Augustine, there was no “time.” He believed time did not, and does not, exist at the same time that it did and does exist. Time exists, but not as we currently think it does. For Augustine, time did not relate to “daily life,” but more to daily being. If one sees “time” as being both all-time and no-time, one can become totally self-aware, in the sense that he can exist for only one second, but yet, still, exist for all seconds for the entirety of his life. One who lives within Augustinian time lives without regrets of the past, without worry for the future: he achieves a humble peace.
Perhaps American society suffers as a whole because it treats time as all-existent and all-important. America lives for the future, seeing life not as a constant eternity, but as a single progression. We have created arbitrary markers in time. By this age, we should be doing this. By that age, we should be doing that. Our expectations create a pressure that becomes unbearable to stand. I live in constant fear that I will not find a husband “in time.” In time for what? I suppose my ovaries… But also the societal idea that there is a normal age, a normal time, for one to be legally paired.
Fear. Time has become something to fear. There isn’t enough time in the world, there is no time to waste. I do not want to live in constant fear. I do not want to fear not having a career by thirty. I do not want to fear at all. We cannot pursue happiness if we live in constant fear. And, isn’t that all we ever wanted? Happiness? So, take your time. There is no more time to waste, but all of the time to waste. Take your time, if not for happiness, at least for peace of mind. I am going to take mine. I’m going take away my fears, and be.
Daily being. That sounds good to me.