Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

We Have No Time for Nothing, but Nothing Counts

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

We Have No Time for Nothing, but Nothing Counts

Article excerpt

The modern American in four words: Two watches, no time.


But along comes this new book that purports to say Americans have more free time now than in the 1960s. Hearing that, you might have thought, "Sure, pal - I don't have the time to sit around and read about how much free time I have."

Well, friends, that's what I'm here for. I acquired a copy of "Time for Life," by John P. Robinson and Geoffrey Godbey (Penn State Press).

The first thing I noticed is that many findings are from 1985 research. We live in a time when consumer research studies are done with interviewers sitting at computers, and the people who sponsor the research receive nightly tallies of the findings, and these guys are just getting around to 1985.

One of the authors, G. Godbey, is listed on the book jacket as a "Professor of Leisure Studies" - and, it seems, also leisurely studies.

The book's conclusions rely heavily on time diaries, where the respondents list everything they did over a 24-hour period. Who has the time? And the bigger question, one that dogged me throughout the book, was this: Who is going to fill out questionnaires these days? The professors cite one survey that reported 32 percent of the respondents have done needlepoint in the past year. One out of three Americans, male and female? Hey, there isn't even a needlepoint cable channel.

My theory is that the sort of person who fills out surveys is the sort to do needlepoint. What this means for time research is that the amount of free time among people with enough free time to do research studies has gone up a bit. OK. But what about the rest of us?

When researchers talk of "free time," they include activities such as taking classes or attending church. To the average person, this is not "free" time, it's committed time. Therein lies the problem. What we need, what we miss, what we yearn for is not free time, but dead time, the empty page on the calendar, the opportunity to stare at the ceiling and muse, "What do I want to do today? …

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