Take your time -- or someone or something else will

In the year 5555,

Your arms hangin' limp at your sides,

Your legs got nothin' to do,

Some machine's doin' that for you.

-Zager & Evans’ "In the year 2525"-

Remember those kids in school who never actually read the assignment and instead wrote their book reports from the movie, Monarch Notes or, even better, the Classic Comics?

    They’ve taken over the world.

    All that stuff about fluoride in the water being a communist plot was just a ruse to cover the real advancing evil – the time-saver product conspiracy. The proof is in the pudding – and it’s instant pudding.

    How many "time-savers" and conveniences do you now, unthinkingly, deem necessary? And how much more time do you have now that you have them?

    Our conquering came upon us stealthily and steadily like a glacier. Back in the thirties, movie shorts showcased the "Kitchen of the Future," presenting us with a happy, perfectly-coiffed woman freed from domestic bondage by her gleaming white electric dishwasher and washer-dryer.

    Then, in the years after World War II, General Motors and Ford told us the automobile would set us free. Television images of carefree commuters driving along ribbons of wide-open highways and then pulling into their driveways (always while it was still light out) showed us that life in suburbia would be a dream realized.

    We bought into it. And once the air war softened us into a willingness to surrender matched only by the French infantry, the ground troops moved in to permanently occupy the territory.        

    Year by year, decade by decade, the old economic laws of supply and demand were reversed. Marketing now makes the market.

    TV dinners. Television remote controls. VCR’s. Microwave ovens. Fedex. Fax. Baby monitors. "Instant Fitness" machines. Cell phones. And of course, the internet revolution. All sold to us as ways to improve the quality of life. But if quality of life were an automobile, most of us would be driving Yugos.

    Need another example? Leaf blowers. Are you really happy your neighbor uses one instead of an old-fashioned bamboo rake? What? You’ll have to speak up.

    But take heart. The war is not yet lost. The convenience-mongers are getting sloppy. Up until now, their devices attached themselves to our lives gradually, like an in-law who promises to stay only a week. But they have become so bold as to risk having themselves laughed away.

    Next time you are in the supermarket, take a look in the wax paper aisle. There’s a new product from the Saran Wrap people called Quick Covers. It’s a piece of plastic wrap with an elastic around it. They apparently think we’ve reached the point where tearing off a square from the roll to cover the leftover macaroni and cheese is too much trouble for us. A box of 14 medium-sized ones sells for $3.49.

    Exhibit Two: The Hammacher Schlemmer ("Offering a Lifetime Guarantee of Complete Satisfaction") holiday catalog. Page 11. The pre-strung, lighted artificial Christmas tree with over one thousand two-ply PVC needles. The twelve-footer can arrive at your door for $999.95 (plus $99.95 for shipping and handling).

    Page 90 of the catalog says it all: They call it the Snowball Maker ($19.95). It looks like a giant red scissors (made of "high-impact siliconized plastic") with two ice-cream scoops at the ends. The description promises, "with a Snowball Maker, children will touch the snow only to throw each snowball, avoiding uncomfortably wet or cold hands or gloves."

    Now that’s just un-American. It runs counter to the red, white and blue of children playing in the snow – red hands, snow white-covered hat and blue lips. Besides, any kid who went into a snowball fight with a Snowball Maker would get beat up. As well he should.

    Just as building new highways ends up attracting more traffic, all these so–called time-savers and conveniences end up sucking time from us because it takes time to use them. But worse, they deprive us of the satisfaction that comes with the doing.

    In this sense, "doing time" is not a bad thing at all. Taking your time, or even wasting your time, is, in the end, more pleasing than having someone or something take that time away from you.


November 17, 2000