Time as Commodity? We can Only Waste Time If It has Value

By: Lara

One of the things I was struck by these readings and even in some posts is the consistent reference of time in capitalist terms. The idea of “spending” time or “saving time” is directly a reference to some sort of applied value, notably in reference to a societal paradigm where value is assigned in the context of monetary value either primary or secondary.

In the Culture of Waste, Bauman writes, “Benjamin Franklin’s discovery that ‘time is money’ was an accolade for time: time is a value, time is important, something to be cherished and cared for, just as your capital investments are.” Even in Maister’s piece, time “wasted” is always in direct relation to a service or perceived service being rendered, and is framed in a direct consumer/provider frame.

I couldn’t help but think back to the beginning of the semester when we were talking of the topic of waste itself- as something that has lost its assigned value- something that no longer has a place- something that no longer has a use towards anything- something that no longer has any sort of assigned value- something that is pushed towards the margins.

The idea of “wasting time” seems to be a notion that has only gained strength with the perpetuation of industrialized and post-industrialized ideals. Time becomes a commodity, and if that time does not have an assigned value, it becomes “wasted”. Thus boredom and “wasted time” are temporal equivalents of dross-capes and terrain vagues- the marginal spaces of time that are considered useless and wasteful, because they have not been assigned any sort of societal and thus any sort of direct or indirect monetary value. Oftentimes this notion also seems applied in the context of academia and the idea of a career- time is often considered wasted if someone is not working to further a career, or some sort of advancement. Industrialized and post-industrialized societies rely on constant advancement and the same goes for time. In this context, time seems to exist as a commodity- to be traded and bartered and saved, much in the way a bank would hoard currency.

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3 Comments»

  cindypound wrote @

very well said. i’ve been thinking about this same thing. how time and what we are “supposed” to be doing with it is informed by a set of classifications that are subjective, and as you point out, the result of a capitalist framework imposed upon our temporal experience and that have at their root this core idea of productivity/use/monetary value. its interesting to think about the fact that time as we know it is a system that was created…minutes, seconds, etc. – these are invented increments that somehow we – collective humanity – all have managed to sync up to. although there are certainly some cultural variants within. new yorkers have a much different relationship with time than say, members of a mountain tribe in new guinea. you go to other parts of the world – heck, even other cities here in the US – and folks are even physically moving at a different speed. as if they have all the time in the world! vs. the proverbial “new york minute”.

i’ve been having a hard time figuring out how to classify “wasted time” on the site map this week because the classifications feel more subjective to me than the wasted objects classifications. seems its in a way easier to agree on what is physical waste than temporal waste…or maybe those are my own biases coming to the fore….

  jen rhee wrote @

So true — I had many of the same thoughts while reading the Strasser. I’m not a Marx expert, but it made me think specifically about labor theories of value (in which the value of a commodity is determined by the labor-time spend producing it).

Strasser’s case study on household labor and efficiency was an interesting read within this framework. How do we determine value in our post-industrial societies, where convenience, efficiency, and instant gratification are key? What’s the value of the labor-time required to *use* a commodity product versus the labor-time required to *produce* that same commodity? I’m really interested in how conceptions of value have shifted over time (and I guess conversely, how conceptions of time have changed in value)

  jessica wrote @

This, too, is a terrific conversation that powerfully illustrates how pervasive one particular conception of time is in our daily lives. So in the face of what you all describe so eloquently here, I would simply ask, are there opportunities for imagining/conceiving time and value in non-economic terms? And why would this be worthwhile?


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