Thursday, March 7, 2024

Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond Productivity Culture by Jenny Odell

Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond Productivity Culture
by Jenny Odell
Read by Kristen Sith
11 hours, 27 minutes
Published March 2023 by Random House Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: In her first book, How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell wrote about the importance of disconnecting from the “attention economy” to spend time in quiet contemplation. But what if you don’t have time to spend?

In order to answer this seemingly simple question, Odell took a deep dive into the fundamental structure of our society and found that the clock we live by was built for profit, not people. This is why our lives, even in leisure, have come to seem like a series of moments to be bought, sold, and processed ever more efficiently. Odell shows us how our painful relationship to time is inextricably connected not only to persisting social inequities but to the climate crisis, existential dread, and a lethal fatalism.

This dazzling, subversive, and deeply hopeful book offers us different ways to experience time—inspired by pre-industrial cultures, ecological cues, and geological timescales—that can bring within reach a more humane, responsive way of living. As planet-bound animals, we live inside shortening and lengthening days alongside gardens growing, birds migrating, and cliffs eroding; the stretchy quality of waiting and desire; the way the present may suddenly feel marbled with childhood memory; the slow but sure procession of a pregnancy; the time it takes to heal from injuries. Odell urges us to become stewards of these different rhythms of life in which time is not reducible to standardized units and instead forms the very medium of possibility.

Saving Time tugs at the seams of reality as we know it—the way we experience time itself—and rearranges it, imagining a world not centered on work, the office clock, or the profit motive. If we can “save” time by imagining a life, identity, and source of meaning outside these things, time might also save us.

My Thoughts: 
We tend to think of time as a constant, an inexorable movement forward, marked by the clock or calendar as we know it and we live our lives accordingly. It's six a.m. so it's time to get out of bed, it's 5 p.m. so it's time to leave work, the show starts at 7 p.m., your appointment is at 10 a.m. It's Monday so we have to go to work, it's Sunday so some of us will be going to church. We all work on the same clock and calendar so we can agree what time we should be places, what day we'll go to dinner with friends, when our library books are due.  

Except that we are also aware that even that way to mark time isn't always exact. It's 11 a.m. as I'm writing this in Nebraska, but it's 8 a.m. where my son lives. Easter falls on a different Sunday every year; the official Memorial Day will fall on a different day of the week every sixth year but the day we observe it will be a different date from year to year; Thanksgiving will always be the last Thursday of November but the date will change. Each of us ages slightly differently, even if we were born at the exact same time, place, and date. 

Odell wants us to be aware that there are a lot of other ways to mark time, that time, as we mark it, has been largely dictated by economic factors and can impact different races differently, and that even climate change is impacting time. 

We have, in our culture, 4 seasons. But, while the official start of each of those seasons may be the same date every year, the reality is that the seasons begin at only approximately the same time every year. Other cultures have entirely different seasons; they might consider that spring has arrived here because the temperature and plant growth say it has, even though a set date has not arrived. 

We sell our time to employers, in exchange for the things we need to live. Employers have evolved ever greater ways to get more work out of us for as little cost to them as possible. In Amazon fulfillment centers, every task has a set amount of time for it to be completed and every moment of a worker's day is tracked. UPS has an exacting route for their trucks, maximizing right turns and traffic lights. Very few employers look at ways to increase productivity by creating down time within the work day.

We've been convinced, by "experts" that there are ways we can more efficiently use our time outside of work, experts Odell calls "productivity bros." If you get up at five, instead of six, you can find time to exercise, for example. Never mind that you'll have to give up something on the other end of the day in order not to lose sleep. 

Even our so-called leisure time has become more structured and work like. This blog, for example. When I began it in 2013, I did it to track my reading and to connect with others. But the longer I did it, the more I got caught up in the idea that I needed to do things that would increase traffic to my blog; I felt like I needed to read at least two books a week so that I had plenty of reviews and have a new blog post up five-six times a week. My parents recognized it for the work it had become, but I insisted it was for fun because it was something I was choosing to do. Except that it wasn't fun any more; the blog had become a second job, a job that took up time I could have been doing things I'd have preferred to be doing. 

Odell presents so many different ways to view and think about time. So many, in fact, and so in depth, that it often became difficult for me to stay focused or understand how this all tied into the larger subject. What I was looking for, more than a way to see time differently, was a way to help myself quit marking time, find ways to ignore the clock, to fully relax and quite worrying so much about what needs to be done. I learned a lot in this book, but I didn't learn that. 

No comments:

Post a Comment