Fishing off a pier in Liberty State Park in New Jersey.
Our mental environment is a commons like air and water.
We need to protect it from unwanted incursions.
— K A L L E L A S N
Americans are tired of corporations’ demands on their time and attention.
When markets began, they were discrete events in time and space. Most of life occurred outside them, by different rules and for different ends. Until the middle of the last century, most stores closed in the evening and on Sunday. Families had time after work for Cub Scouts, PTA meetings and the like.
Today we move to the metronome of the market. Its needs demand our attention nearly every waking moment. Not surprisingly, that’s making many people overloaded. They’re telling corporations,
‘You can’t have everything. We need time for life!’
Hold the marketing!
Common space is freedom space. It’s there for us to inhabit, so long as we don’t interfere with anyone else. It’s not a space we have much of any more. We’re barraged by ads — over 3,000 a day and growing. Buses, airports and a host of other public places have become theaters for corporate want-creation. But a backlash is stirring.
– The State of Maine bought out all billboards in the state, beginning in 1981. Vermont, Alaska and Hawaii also ban billboards.
– Within three months after it was launched, the FTC’s ‘Do Not Call’ list had already enrolled 50 million Americans, and now includes half of eligible U.S. phone lines.
– The future of TV ads is murky because a growing fraction of viewers use recording devices such as TiVo to fast-forward through commercials.
Got a minute?
Democracy requires a temporal commons, a pool of time available for community concerns. The market, however, claims so much of our time — both as workers and consumers — that we have little left for our families, let alone for our communities.
Americans work longer than medieval peasants, either at jobs that demand long hours, or at second and third jobs needed to make ends meet. They spend additional hours wrestling with the complexities of medical insurance and cell phone plans.
Now citizens are claiming more non-market time.
– Hundreds of communities hold Take Back Your Time Day events to recognize the day in October on which Americans could stop working if they had as much time off as Europeans. TBYTD’s agenda includes paid leave after childbirth, limits on compulsory overtime, and making Election Day a holiday.
– The Massachusetts Council of Churches, with support from the Atlanta-basedLord’s Day Alliance, has made the reclaiming of time a major focus.
– The Slow Food Movement has become a force to protect traditional ways of growing, preparing and eating food. Founded in Italy, it has thirty-five chapters in California, six in Texas, and one in Alabama.
Putting time in the bank
Helping neighbors is a great American tradition. But as people relocate more frequently, it’s harder for them to trust that favors they do will be repaid.
Time Dollars you can bank are one solution. When you help a neighbor for an hour, you earn one Time Dollar. Then, when you need help yourself, you can spend your saved Time Dollars.
Some communities have harnessed Time Dollars for special projects. In Chicago, Maine and Florida, nearly 5,000 low-income kids have earned computers by tutoring younger peers for a hundred hours apiece. And in New York, members of an HMO for the elderly contribute 15,000 hours annually to help each other with home repairs, transportation and simple companionship.
Q U I E T, P L E A S E !
A wave of modern devices has turned our once-tranquil soundscape into a sea of noise. Now, people are demanding quiet.
– Chicago, Cleveland and Pittsburgh have cracked down on boom box cars.
– Suburbs across the country have restricted leaf blowers.
– New York City has banned cell phones in theaters.
– Amtrak added Quiet Cars on its northeast corridor trains.
Americans have less paid time off work than citizens of any other industrialized nation, with barely two weeks annually.