Monday, June 21, 2004

Money and time

All this stuff doesn't come cheap. To earn enough money to afford it, we need to work really hard. Here in London there is more than a trace of the American disease of "presenteeism", ie it's not whether you get your work done, and how well, that counts, it's how many hours you spend in the office. But the more time you spend working the less time you have to play with your hard-earned gadgets. (After you've spent the time to charge them all, of course.) And each gadget has either a time or a money cost to use (sometimes both).

It just seems to be getting worse. I haven't seen a movie in months, because in my mind it's hard to justify the expenditure of time (and movies are quite expensive as well). The time pressure is increased by all the gadgets, of course. Apple launches the iTunes Music Store in Europe, which is really cool, but after you've spent some time (and money!) choosing some songs and downloading them, you feel as though you should listen to them, either on the iPod, or burned onto CD and played in the car...

Actually, now that I think about it, Apple have a lot to answer for here. Their stuff is so cool and well-made, it just sucks you into using it. My digital camera has a new lease on life now because iPhoto lets me create slideshows, web pages, DVDs... GarageBand helped me to make music, a lifelong dream at some level... iMovie: edit your videos like a pro, adding your own music as a soundtrack, with effects and animated menus... Even just using the PowerBook, with all its cool little bits and pieces and so-well-thought-out user interface, is so much fun you just spend more time with it than you should.

I mean, how are you supposed to work, exercise, feed yourself, do your washing and cleaning, and also have time to do all the cool stuff that the people in the ads seem to do as if it's Their Whole Life? You start to feel like a failure because only a tiny part of your life is spent rollerblading through Hyde Park with your iPod. But every aspirational lifestyle activity shown in the media requires either time or money and usually both. Obtaining surplus money requires an enormous investment of time. No wonder people start to feel trapped, caught on an endless treadmill of consumerism.

It seems obvious that we need to accept that choices need to be made. Like the rational market participants of classical economic theory, we have limitations on our resources and need to make choices that will maximise them. We can't have it all. We need to choose. Just as there are no great film directors who are also platinum-selling rock stars, we can't reasonably expect to have the resources to pursue every avenue of creative expression that takes our fancy.

Obvious or not, it's a lot easier said than done. Some of the most creative of us spend their working time persuading us that we can have it all, or at least that we can have what their clients are selling. (Spending so much time at it, no doubt, that they have no time to actually live out the precepts of their own creations.) And they are very, very good at it. The cumulative effect is a kind of life-spanning Attention Deficit Disorder, as we flit from one product to another, trying to capture the portrayed lifestyle and experience the ersatz pleasure we see acted out with such consummate skill before our eyes, but without enough precious time to invest in any of them to really make it work. Serial frustration, always falling short of the impossible dreams of advertising.


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