During one of my burrito drive-through runs at Crisostomo’s, I got a shiny, new gold one-dollar coin instead of the usual paper money I normally get for my change. The shiny coin had the statue of liberty on one side and President William Henry Harrison on the other, with the words, “In God We Trust,” at the bottom. When coinage was first invented, the priestly class administered it; as this is no doubt why, in most cases, the earliest coins bore a religious symbol on one side and a secular symbol on the other-God and Caesar. Coins were intended as a tool, an instrument to facilitate necessary human interactions in the material world, while helping us to remember our dependence on God and God’s moral laws.
I am fascinated with money and people’s relationship with it.
The history of human’s creation of money isn’t clear, but it is intriguing. We have apparently been a tool-using people for several thousands of years; but the period around 5000 years ago, when we began to domesticate animals, was the first time rings and axes appear to have been used to exchange goods. These artifacts have been found in burial sites in Brittany, Create, Mycenae, and Silesia. The Pharaohs, 4000 years ago, used copper as the unit of exchange in Egypt. An alloy of copper, silver, and gold was used in Babylonia. A thousand years ago, the Chinese in the Tang Dynasty issued paper money; followed by the development of banking 500 years ago and paper currency in Europe.
It seems at some point early on in the modern era, our society chose things over time, material objects over leisure, resulting in the present situation in which we have a great deal of stuff but very little time. Is the new currency time? Is the Justin Timberlake movie In Time going to come true? Set in a near or far future in a segregated city, the movie imagines a world in which everyone stops aging at 25. (Just like in Hollywood!) On that birthday a glowing green digital clock on everyone’s left forearm starts running, giving them just 365 days to go and then 364, 363, 362. When the days run out, the clock stops for good. In this future world in which time is literally money — everything, including food, shelter and wages, is valued in minutes, hours, years, decades — it’s possible to slow the escaping hourglass sand by buying more time, as the rich do. The poor are slaves to time.
Talk to anyone in the ad industry these days and they will agree; time is the new currency. Brands, entertainment, technology, you name it, all compete for the public’s attention. And if someone is willing to spend “time” with you (forget spending money), in this fractured, over-caffeinated, A.D.D. world, someone gracing you with his or her attention is the ultimate compliment.
Yet, ironically, if you take a step back it seems people have more free time than ever. Blogs, podcasts, YouTube, MySpace, Pinterest, who are all these people who have tons of excess time to make spoof commercials and photo montages? I can barely climb out of the deluge of magazines that pile up next to my bed every week, yet there seem to be an abundance of folks who have all the time in the world to create “user-generated” content that’s all the rage these days.
Yes, time and money suffer from similar delusions. The proliferation of desire has been the basis for our capitalistic economy. It is not the satisfaction of desire, but the creation of artificial desire. People do not need 99% of the products that are offered in the market place. If the so-called “normal” desires would be satisfied, then the economy would collapse. Who needs 20 kinds of orange juice in the supermarket? This is where the time problem comes in. Because of all these desires, we have to work harder and longer hours to afford these desires and then we have too little time to buy the products or services, let alone enjoy them. This, in turn, is a reflection of living in our heads and continuously being busy with our possible future desires. Time seems to pass faster and faster. We just don’t have enough time to do what we think we need to do; we do not even have time to do what we really need to do. That is time poverty. Just as we have seen with money, with time we are also seeing the loss of values and the loss of the sense of what a human being is all about.
If time is the new currency, when you have the power to give time, you truly have reached success.