Taking Time (Back)
I took a walk through a nearby park today. I sat on a bench made from recycled plastic and read some of the small labels tied around the trunk of the various and imported trees. I wondered about the role of Latin in shaping my contemporary lexicon.
Two things struck me during my time in the fresh air. First, I thought about how dull I would have found the whole affair ten years ago - like one of those lessons too quiet to learn when you're dealing with the sociopolitical landscape of high school.
Second, I thought about what's changed since then, and why such serenity might seem more important to me now. The answer, I think, begins with time.
I write a lot about time. More specifically, I write about the way time is treated in our increasingly digital communities.
One of the things that stands out is the tendency to treat time as a finite resource, a linear sequence of discrete moments that we must parse for value. In this view, technology is a way to break the timeline down into increasingly granular and efficient pieces. Connectivity no longer takes weeks, days, or even hours - just seconds.
For individuals, aside from the communicative and navigational conveniences that come from seemingly real-time technologies, this means more of our time is experienced in relation to targeted and extractive processes of surveillance and commodification. The world is always-on, vulnerable to targeted advertising, distraction, and the workplace.
Such connectivity has been especially prominent during the pandemic, with the rise of remote work and the tendency to work longer hours. Many are also saving their vacation time, anticipating a future of possibility and travel further down the road.
At best, we might hope for time-off. We talk of free-time, too, but free from what? Both ideas merely reaffirm the assumption that, at some point, we will have to go back - back into the fold of a far-reaching enterprise.
What if we didn't stop there, though? What if, instead of approaching time as a resource to be negotiated and bargained, we rethought the conditions on which we experience time in the first place. To take time back, then, would not mean seizing the stores of capitalism but, rather, about taking back control of the conditions by which we come to understand and value our temporal experience.
Thought in this way, something like a walk in the park is no longer a simple reprieve but, in fact, a form of resistance - an act of defiance that opens up the possibility of thinking dime differently. In my park, for example, a walk becomes a chance to think about time in a non-linear and disorderly way - a space in which ancient and foreign trees are juxtaposed with new music and the nurtured synopses of my brain.
Like all activism, taking time takes privilege. The ability to disconnect form technology, for example, is becoming increasingly exclusive. To recognize the possibility of a different temporality is to acknowledge the systems that create these inequities and the impact that extractive logics have on the margins. It is in this sense that taking time might be differentiated from our post-vacation return to business as usual.
When we are young, such things seem trivial. With important exceptions, the conditions of our time remain largely ours, alive with friends and drama and our own type of politics. When we get older, however, we find less and less the conditions of our temporality in our own hands.
Maybe that's why my walks through the park feel more significant than they used to - why the right tree and the right song make me want to sit for just a while longer.
There's something radical in taking time, I think. In approaching the table with a different set of assumptions about what time is and what it means to us.