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Time Poverty

Recently I went looking for some information about how society has responded to the fast pace of change (mainly in technology). My thoughts were geared toward things like open-source software and lower cost of entry into tech fields (e.g., 3D printing, Internet of Things, maker movement, software development). A much less substantial barrier to entry brings more competition, so the stock answer is to speed up to either get the edge or be first/best at something.

The negative side is that we spend so much energy tripping over our own feet that we don’t have time to understand the long game. My interest in this was probably piqued by a conversation I had with a friend who teaches high school. She had several stories of how kids these days are more digitally connected but ironically have poor interpersonal (soft) skills.

I came across the article Why Is Everyone So Busy?; it’s a little lengthy, yet it covers the societal expectations that have changed for the middle class, and why I’m probably feeling stressed regarding keeping up with things. The article outlines the concept of more or less being money-rich, but time-poor. — This quotation really hit home…

Once hours are financially quantified, people worry more about wasting, saving or using them profitably. When economies grow and incomes rise, everyone’s time becomes more valuable. And the more valuable something becomes, the scarcer it seems.


This notion of time as money or something to be managed and optimized is something that can easily play to a developer or engineer’s aptitude. In academia and industry, we’re pressed to optimize, fail fast, and be ever more efficient. I’d postulate that the combination of the analogy and these expectations make for a stressful situation.

Occasionally I’ve wondered whether the field I’m in (which is speeding up exponentially) is at odds with my personality trait of being a maintainer/gardener (see the roles list on my About page). Everyone wants the new shiny/sexy thing, so less value is attributed to taking the time to maintain what you already have. Combined with planned obsolescence and our society’s expectation of “who cares if it lasts, I’ll just buy something new”, I wonder where that leaves me. (I have another post in the works about maintenance programmers, so I’ll save those thoughts for another day.)

I’m not sure if I have any actionable answers to my stressors right now, given that society still rewards being busy. However, I think at least being aware of my surroundings and feelings is a step in the right direction.

Image credit: Harald Groven

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