Market tampering with free time

Universalizing time and prioritizing profit.

Ramla Bile

In an attempt to increase productivity, Peruvian President Alan Garcia has blamed the nation’s lack of punctuality and has launched a new time initiative, which, ironically, commenced half an hour late. In the United States, American workers are so consumed with productivity that lunchtime continues to diminish as workers spend an inadequate 31 minutes on break. Both changes convey an increased desire for productivity, which alone is a shortsighted objective that prefers profit to people.

Lunchtime was once social time, moments where coworkers could converse and build relationships. This time continues to shrink as workers spend more time catching up on work or running errands, and since we also live in a society where time is viewed as money, demand for productivity is high. Today, more than half of workers allocate half an hour or less for lunch and 55 percent of workers eat at their desks while continuing their work or multitasking in some capacity. Such changes erode the communal element of our surroundings and draws from time that could nurture personal relationships.

This logic accepts the capitalist assumption that a society is only as good as it is able to produce, and this premise leads to the idea that time and labor equals efficiency, and the latter equates profit. However, not only is this approach unhealthy for the development of the civil society, but it’s also not true that fixed scheduling is efficient. There are societies, such as Spain, which, despite having a flexible sense of time and longer breaks within the workday, continue to work many hours in a given day. This “flexibility” also works for Spain because employers provide a 10-minute grace period before starting meetings. This 10-minute grace period is also granted in some transnational institutions and is another example of how “universal time” can be both structured and flexible.

In Peru, the country finds itself “universalizing time” to compete with other states in the capitalist economy. But if the only incentive to tamper with time is to please foreign investors, this supports the idea of measuring time in terms of profit, and it’s a testimony to a growing obsession with materialism in our world system. Having said that, due to the complexity of our time-sensitive global culture, there is a need for a common temporal language. It would be naive not to expect any such synchronization to take place. However, this need to “universalize time” should also reflect a more “universal” sense of time, one that takes into account various conceptualizations of time. There should also be space for being sensitive to the views of others and also valuing relationships and people – profit itself carries little value at the expense of people.

Time varies from culture to culture, and “universalizing time” should not merely cater to the market or imply that people ought to be compulsive about time. It’s common for people to assume that some communities reject “time,” but it’s perhaps more accurate to say that it is custom for some to hold a more laissez-faire attitude toward it. Conversely, it’s important to consider where flexibility is appropriate and where a more rigid concern for time is required. It is both disrespectful and rude to keep people waiting, but it’s also awkward when one fails to consider the time rationale of a given community. While there is a certain need to establish a more orderly and punctual domestic and global society, it’s equally important to question if it’s ethically appropriate to exercise compulsive punctuality to the extent that people suddenly become less significant.

Ramla Bile welcomes comments at [email protected]