Thursday, March 24, 2011

Economic growth leads to a scarcity of time

she has a lot of time...

Philosophers, politicians and economists have all given voice to the idea that once we have been freed from destitution and poverty, through the blessings of industrialisation, we would get time to spend for art, spiritual development, games and exploring the deeper meaning of the concept of freedom. But this didn't materialise. Already 1969, economist, and later trade minister of Sweden, Staffan Burenstam Linder (1970) described in The Harried Leisure Class how consumers in high income countries have become more stressed and restless in their efforts to increase productivity of their leisure time. The productivity of work has increased tremendously through mechanisation and use of external energy. This creates a corresponding pressure on our time off to also be more “productive”, influencing both household work and pure leisure. That we have more money to dispose of doesn't alleviate the situation, rather the contrary, as all that money needs to find its use.

We only have so many hours “to spend”. Through technical development and efficient management, we produce an awful lot of things today, a lot more than we did before. But we work more or less the same. This means that we have got more and more things to consume and services to buy in the same limited time. No wonder we get stressed. In the same way as our productivity in industries and offices has increased tremendously by more tools and machines, our time off is also increasingly dominated by them. We use more and more tools and gadgets and activities that have no corresponding gadget lose their appeal; for cooking, a food processor or an ice cream maker is preferred over a straight forwards slowly simmering stew. Sports, even the “simple outdoor-life” is dominated by designer brands and special technical aids. We need one helmet for ice hockey, another one for our bicycle, a third one for driving a motorcycle and a fourth one for the piste just to mention the most common ones is a cold climate.

In a similar way, we are supposed to constantly upgrade our competence. We are moving towards a knowledge society it is said. Earlier, some five to seven years of formal education was enough for many trades, followed by apprenticeship on the job, today school reaches some twelve grades in most countries and a bulk of the people are supposed to continue into higher education[1]. We need to be better and better not the fall off the merry-go-round which is spinning quicker and quicker. This competition is another side of the growth paradigm and a cause of insecurity and loss of well-being. Not only do we want more things all the time, we should also know more and be attractive in the market (be it the labour market or the dating market). This contributes to stress and that some actually fall off altogether. Our ability to integrate those that are a bit different, the odd ones, is diminishing by the year, both at work and socially. The time we have for taking care of an old relative, or just to sit and listen is constantly shrinking.

[1] Humans have always been driven by a wish to know more, to understand, by curiosity. It is a big difference between when people learn because the do it for those reasons and when they do it out of plight or force to be in demand. Those skills that are demanded are not at all necessarily the skills that we seek for our personal satisfaction.

No comments:

Post a Comment