By Lynn Ashby 13 June 2011
TIME ON THEIR HANDS
THE TV – It is 3 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon and I am watching a live shot from in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington where scores of demonstrators are holding signs while chanting, “Whadda we want? When do we want it?”
My immediate thought, and probably yours, too, is not about their cause, nor about the learned opposition, the subtle nuances of the legal standings. No, my thought is, “How do you have time, in the middle of a workday, to stand in front of a federal building in Washington to shout and sing?”
Lots of people always seem to have time to demonstrate. Others among us write three-page letters to the editor on the economic affects of ethanol subsidies. Others write me three page letters about those who write three-page letters. They all lead us to the matter of — a roll of drums — people who have too much time on their hands.
Look, you and I have things to do. We’ve got revolutions to hatch, laundry to dry, six-packs to buy. I’ve got lists of my lists, I’m two days behind in breathing and each time I leave the house there are a billion – OK. I exaggerate – a million stops to make. So who are these people who have nothing better to do?
Example, the political radio talk shows. A caller begins with: “I’ve been on hold for an hour and a half.” Huh? You’ve got nothing better to do, caller, than sit on hold for 90 minutes listening to the redundant drum-beat of a semi-educated talk show host who thinks the Diet of Worms is an unappetizing Oprah weight-loss program. Get a life, buddy. Sports call-in shows are bad, too, hosted by aging second-guessers arguing with armchair quarterbacks. Lordy, don’t they ever get tired of whining in stereo?
Their time would be better spent mentoring fatherless kids, picking up debris along the highways, planting trees, visiting wounded vets, reading to the blind or maybe just reading something besides the label on a fifth of Jack Daniels. Yet they have time to work through a full book of Sudoku and vote for Miss Alabama.
This situation of extra time was predicted. Several years ago there was a surge of essays by societal observers who said labor-saving gadgets were revolutionizing Americans’ life-styles. We were becoming a leisure society with more free time. Shorter work days, shorter work weeks, lots more vacations, retire at 50. Mom won’t have to wash dishes, the dishwasher will do it. Clothes the same way. Just nuke that TV dinner in 30 seconds. Garbage disposals, microwave ovens, electric can openers and steak knives would trim – so to speak – time spent in the kitchen.
For Dad, power mowers, leaf blowers and Weed Eaters would put an end to rakes, shovels and manual hedge clippers. Economists urged us to purchase stocks in companies that made/built tennis racquets, fishing poles, swimming pools or vacation homes. Also, buy stock in any company that made labor-saving devices. Robots would build our cars, planes and boats. Jet planes would streak us to our destination in a short time. No long lines at the airport, so no need to get to there an hour before your flight. The Interstate Highway system would end heavy traffic and road rage.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Leisure Land. Americans are actually working longer, about 42.5 hours a week in 2006, compared to 37.5 hours in 2003, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average workweek for men increased to about 45 hours in 2006, up from about 40 hours in 2003. Women worked slightly more than 40 hours in 2006, an increase from 35.1 hours in 2003. Eighteen percent of workers put in more than 48 hours a week. Is this good? Billy Graham observed he never visited anyone on their death bed who said, “I only wish I’d spent more time at the office.”
Who has time to paint graffiti on subways, warehouses and derelicts? Some of those uneeded works of art must have taken hours – and in the middle of the night. Do you know anyone who paints his face with his team’s colors, shaves his head, dons a bear costume (or maybe a Redskin, Bronco, Dolphin or large block of cheese), and stands for four hours during a pro football game? In the freezing sleet? Talk about the need to get a life.
In recent years we have seen perhaps the biggest time-waster of all: personal computers, iPads, etc. How many useless hours are spent by bloggers (remember the old guy in his bathrobe in the basement late at night) churning out meaningless tomes on useless subjects? I get looong e-mails from strangers on Obama’s Martian roots or Hillary’s plan to take over Nebraska. Here’s a statistic of note: Individuals ages 15 to 19 read for an average of 5 minutes per weekend day while spending one hour playing games or using a computer for leisure. But how much time are our teenagers spending painting graffiti? No wonder the Chinese are winning.
Daytime demonstrators, cheese-heads and bloggers, with no productive task on hand and no make-work to kill the hours, clearly never heard of Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Parkinson was a British bureaucrat who noticed, among other examples, that the fewer colonies the British Empire had, the larger the Colonial Office grew. Over here, when there’s an approaching snow storm in Washington the government orders: “All non-essentail personnel must go home.” Does that raise questions in your mind? Does this order allow Washington’s unnecessay bureaucrats time to go home and dress up like Redskins?
If you are wondering why I was watching TV at 3 on a Wednesday afternoon, I was put on hold by a radio talk show. I want to complain about people with too much time on their hands.
Ashby works constantly at firstname.lastname@example.org