Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Time is Money

Many of us in the design community and beyond have heard "time is money" as one of the justifications for almost everything. Why to meet or not meet, come in early, stay late, the reasons others criticize our actions that appear to the observer to be a "waste of time".

I did not realize until I read George Lakoff's book Metaphors We Live By that "time is money" is a foundational metaphor. Evidently, according to Lakoff (a Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkley) language, thought, and learning are "constructed" through a system of metaphors. The metaphor "time is money" is tied to our culture in the west, especially the United States. The "time is money" concept encompasses our cultural experiences with money, limited resources, and valuable commodities. There are cultures where time has little or no relationship to any of these things.

Could it be that, as we continue to strive for and obtain quicker and quicker ways of doing things, time, as it relates to work and our work lives, is no longer the limiting factor? If we continue to focus on doing things more quickly because "time is money", we may lose sight of the reasons behind our frantic pace to keep up with the demands of the clock, colleagues and employers.

As my friend and collaborator, Turid Horgen, once said "If it takes nine months to make a baby, can nine women make a baby in one month?" Some things just take time, and rushing and/or expediting is not going to speed up the process. Whatever happened to "patience is a virtue" and "Rome wasn't built in a day"?

So if "time is money" is an outdated metaphor, what metaphor can we use or create to replace it. My vote is for a metaphor I read in the novel On Beauty by Zadie Smith. Zadie's metaphor, which she attributes to her husband, is "time is the way we spend our love".

I am sure there are other metaphors for time. For me, the reason to "play" with metaphors is because the metaphors we use unconsciously may be limiting our life choices. Being conscious and intentional about using metaphors consistent with our values may help us and others create a future where people, family and relationships are fundamental to our future survival, health and well-being.


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