Survey says: Time is the ultimate luxury.

This comes as no surprise to me. I’ve always considered my time to be worth more than just about anything else I have, the first title for Rough Living was “My Time is My Own”. I mean, that was what it was all about, refusing to give away my time for less than it was worth and figuring out how to make more of it mine. Friends that saw what I was doing suggested I write the book and …well…that was a good use of my time.

According to a new survey sponsored by a group of high-end brands including Condé Nast, Gucci and the Ritz-Carlton, 44 per cent believe that “luxury is having enough time to do whatever you want” (and being able, natch, to afford it); 35 per cent named time the most highly valued luxury, while 25 per cent identified luxury as “life experiences” (which, presumably, might require time to fully enjoy).
The irony of it all is that the very things our society has marketed as designed to free us up have ended up being time suckers, turning time itself into something rare and precious. Forget the brand-new car and trip to Hawaii. I can already imagine the new game-show finale: “And the grand prize is … an afternoon in a quiet room all by yourself with nothing particular to do!”
True, stress is not unique to our times. Most of us in the West no longer spend our days searching out shelter and hunting down dinner. We don’t usually think of switching on the washing machine as quite as taxing as beating our clothes by the river. But the trick is that doing laundry now means you have to waste time trying to figure out how to get your washing machine to stop sending you cryptic digital messages and clean your clothes.
Part of this is a design problem: As the things around us supposedly designed to make our lives easier increasingly come to mimic both the multifaceted capability (look at all the features!) and the blank-faced, hidden complexity of personal computers, “interfacing” is turning into a nasty carnivore eating bigger and bigger chunks out of our day.
This frittering away of our most valuable resource can also be blamed on developments in the culture. I’d like to have the time to upload all the digital photos of our last get-together and reprogram my iPod, but frankly, in the time it would take me to do all these new wonderfully creative and fulfilling things, I’d rather read a book.
And then there’s everything else. Working out used to be a leisure option. Now it’s like another job – as de rigueur as being well-travelled, having a fabulously decorated home, knowing how to choose a good bottle of wine and being up on all the latest films, issues of the New Yorker and hot new restaurants. And when can we get together? No wonder our calendars read like five-year plans.
It should come as no surprise that for some of us, the daily commute is the only time we have we have to ourselves. A report last year by Statistics Canada found that the majority of workers actually enjoy their travel time to work, even though it’s increasingly taking longer (on average more than an hour each way, up from 54 minutes in 1992).
And it’s no wonder commuting is a break: To add to the sickening sense of a ticking clock, our workplaces are increasingly requiring us to be available 24/7. Which means that everyone from plumbers to bank employees are now routinely issued company BlackBerrys – taking the status gleam off that particular accessory by revealing it as the iron chain of the 21st century packaged as a pocket pal.
Which brings me to the results of another saddening survey. According to AOL’s annual Email Addiction survey, which was released last week, e-mail use on portable devices has nearly doubled since 2004 and it’s being done day and night, from everywhere – bed, cars, even bathrooms. It’s fast becoming as essential as breathing: 59 per cent of those surveyed check every time a new message arrives and 43 per cent like to keep them near their pillow when they’re sleeping. An astounding 83 per cent check them at least once a day while on vacation. And we wonder where all the time goes.
If you’re up at the lake right now, checking the Berry after a swim over a cool gin and tonic, maybe it’s time you did something really luxurious, like turning the damn thing off. Like I said, time is the new luxury.
At the very least, consider this: Only time will tell what exactly the enterprising folks at Gucci and Ritz-Carlton will do with this big insight, other than come up with new, and no doubt, costly, ways for us to suck up what little time we have left.