[Throwback] All the time in the world
Time as... *glances at economics Wikipedia*... a network good
I’m about 3 years (fashionably??) late to the party, but I’m finally reading Meg Jay’s The Defining Decade. It’s my roommate’s copy, so it’s always a little awkward when I see he’s underlined something that didn’t quite hit me the same way it did for him.
But something that resonated with us BOTH was Jay’s emphasis on the power of weak ties in drastically shaping the course of one’s career.
As Jay explains,
“Surveying workers in a Boston suburb who had recently changed jobs, [Stanford professor] Mark Granovetter found it wasn’t close friends and family—presumably those most invested in helping—who were most valuable during the job hunt. Rather, more than three-quarters of new jobs had come from leads from contacts who were seen only ‘occasionally’ or ‘rarely.’ This finding led Granovetter to write a ground-breaking paper titled ‘The Strength of Weak Ties’ about the unique value of people we do not know well.”
Somewhat related, I’d like to reflect on the time I received a job offer after coincidentally running into the hiring manager on a plane…
This week’s note, a throwback from a few months ago, is a reflection on free time.
All the Time in the World
A lot of self-help and Twitter philosophy seems to fetishize personal freedom and being able to “do whatever you want” as a chief goal in life—even if that’s at odds with what’s typically required for constructing a meaningful life: being at the service of other people. In The Psychology of Money, Morgan Housel writes:
“The highest form of wealth is the ability to wake up every morning and say, ‘I can do whatever I want today.’”
Though I fully agree that freedom is a much wiser use of wealth than the acquisition of Veblenesque goodies, there’s an amendment I’d like to make to his statement: “I can do whatever I want today assuming I have other people to do those things with.” The absolute freedom to use your time as you wish is not worth much if you’re forced to experience all that free time by yourself. People who work unusual shifts of work know this well: having Tuesday off is a lot less valuable than Saturday. With whom can you typically share an entire Tuesday? In this sense, time is what economists call a “network good”, one that, as Oliver Burkeman puts it in Four Thousand Weeks, “derives its value from how many other people have access to it, too, and how well their portion is coordinated with yours.”
In this sense, time isn’t an asset you should necessarily hoard for your individual exploitation, though some people do seem to believe this. An extreme example is Mario Salcedo, a financial consultant who has permanently resided on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship for the last two decades. That’s 6,000+ nights on a cruise ship. In Lance Oppenheim’s short film about him, The Happiest Guy in the World, Salcedo explains his reasoning:
“I don’t have to take out the garbage, I don’t have to clean, I don’t have to do laundry—I’ve eliminated all those non-value-added activities, and just have all the time in the world to enjoy what I like to do.”
Without a wife, kids, house or any responsibilities outside of work, Mario “Cruising King” Salcedo has maximized personal free time. But at what cost? In the film, Salcedo keeps telling random passengers (and himself) that he’s happy—the “happiest guy in the world”—but you and I would probably be miserable with all of that time and no one to share it with.
The 20th century German philosopher Karl Jaspers grasped this, too. In fact, he suggested that human existence itself is predicated on having strong ties with other people. As he wrote in Philosophy of Existence:
“The individual cannot become human by himself. Self-being is only real in communication with another self-being. […] My own freedom can only exist if the other is also free.”
The last sentence rings true for me: “my own freedom can only exist if the other is also free.”
Last year, I randomly took off work on a Thursday to relax. I spent part of the afternoon drinking margaritas at the local taqueria. Fortunately, I wasn’t alone: my girlfriend was off work to join me too.
We were free… together.
Thanks for reading! I love when these thoughts lead to conversations with readers. Did you find anything interesting or surprising? Reply to me and let me know.