In search of instant-value

By: Elizabeth

As Susan Strasser explains in ‘Waste and Want,’ the promise of convenience was once advertised as a promise of freedom – “from attention, care, and responsibility.” I would like to highlight these three words as precisely the elements that serve to instill value in something, that is to say, prevent it from being disposable. To “free” ourselves (through myriad and constantly evolving methods of time-saving) from these “burdens” is in effect to put ourselves in the position of one who does not care, one who does not pay attention, one who does not take responsibility.
These are the ingredients for a valueless society.
The things we most value in life (be they objects, places, or relationships), are generally those which we have “spent” the most time on. A baseball bat doesn’t hold value because it was purchased for $45 or is latest in the Ken Griffey Jr series, but because it belonged to our father and had it since he was 8 years old, or because we used it for every softball game we played growing up. Curtains don’t have value because we bought them at Target but because we made them ourselves (and it took 4 hours! Because it was our first time sewing! And we really sucked at first!). Everyone knows that that one treasured childhood stuffed animal is not the one that was the cutest or the most expensive, but the one that we spent the most time with. You might throw out the Target curtains without thinking twice, but the same could hardly be true for the ones you “spent” the time to make yourself.
These things sound cheesy, but of course they are true.
It seems that as long as we continue our avid efforts of saving time and avoiding “putting time” into things, we will in effect be perpetuating a cycle of disposability wherein the value of things (be they items or relationships-as Zygmunt Bauman discusses in his speed-dating piece) is constantly degraded due to lack of “time spent.” More and more people seem to want (and expect) a “quick fix” for everything. But the fact is that for many things, the fix itself is achieved through time. To have a good relationship with you daughter, you have to spend time with her. There is no book you can buy or place you can move or room you can redecorate that will make it happen faster. The relationship itself will be defined through time spent and commitment to those very three things – to a sense of responsibility, a dedication to “pay” attention, and an effort to truly “give” care.
It is time (and responsibility, and attention, and care) that ultimately gives things their true value. The more we succeed in freeing ourselves from those “burdens” (as labeled by marketers of convenience), the more one begins to wonder …what will be left worth saving all this time for?


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