The Economics of Time

Free­dom to Read Week, Feb­ru­ary 22–28, 2015

Entry #11: New Brunswick author Chuck Bowie on the impor­tance of mak­ing time for what you love.

Infants and tod­dlers have all the time in the world to read. Sad­ly, they can­not reap the rewards of that gift, since they haven’t acquired the skill set. Folks with men­tal challenges—perhaps the hard­est of the ill­ness­es for rel­a­tives and friends to witness—share this chal­lenge, in that, for their rea­sons and bur­dens, they can­not gain access to the gift of read­ing.

In between is the sweet spot where most of us reside. I haven’t for­got­ten the illit­er­ate, the unfor­tu­nates who have been delib­er­ate­ly deprived of books, mag­a­zines, arti­cles and oth­er forms of word-to-paper or to screen. But there remain many of us who have been edu­cat­ed and know how to read.

So, those of us, a great roil­ing mass of us, have what seems to be illim­itable items from which to gain access and learn (or be enter­tained). Do we, then, actu­al­ly do that? Are our days spent suck­ing up knowl­edge, facts, wis­dom, infor­ma­tion, bits and bytes? Not me. Most days, I car­ry a wist­ful thought that life would be bet­ter if I didn’t have to sleep, exer­cise, eat, con­verse or oth­er­wise par­tic­i­pate in life events.

I want to read!

I read about a group of NHL hock­ey play­ers who went to Moscow on a Christ­mas tour­na­ment. These were rich young men essen­tial­ly bred to play hock­ey. They would grow up to become busi­ness­men, win­ery own­ers and restau­ran­teurs, but at that point in time, they were big kids in a cul­tur­al­ly rich, exot­ic city. When asked if they’d like to take a tour of the city, fin­ish­ing up at the Bol­shoi, they demurred. They had tele­vi­sion to watch.

Par­ents of tod­dlers. Min­i­mum wage earn­ers with two and three part-time jobs, health care-givers. There are peo­ple in your social cir­cle who have excel­lent rea­sons why they choose not to read. Many of us don’t, and in many cas­es, it comes down to choice.

I set aside last evening to read, but two of the shows I fol­low were on, and then Chica­go was play­ing a late game. Before I knew it, I had to go to bed. Last week­end, I had time set aside to read, but Kirk called me up for a game of indoor ten­nis. Since I hadn’t exer­cised all week, I thought I should invest in my health. The books would be there lat­er.

Lat­er. Isn’t that when most of our read­ing takes place? In pio­neer days, the chores had to be com­plet­ed by dark, tech­nol­o­gy being what it was. So read­ing by lantern was the best way to spend the time between chores and bed. That and con­ver­sa­tion. Nowa­days all we need, in order to read, is the most sim­ple of all tools: a sched­ule. We exer­cise our bod­ies, and leave our brains to cal­ci­fy. Rust nev­er sleeps, and we can guess if we nev­er read, soon it will become an effort to even try read­ing. That seems to whis­per ‘Kar­ma’ to me.

If you want to read, read. If you want to find the time, sched­ule it. If your time is com­mit­ted, mul­ti-task. It turns out you aren’t actu­al­ly falling asleep as you put on your PJs. You have a few min­utes to wind down. Believe it or not, read­ing is pos­si­ble as you eat your lunch, or while enjoy­ing a cup of tea. Or in lieu of bad tele­vi­sion (because let’s face it; TV ain’t all rock­et sci­ence and bril­liant dia­logue).

Count your weeks into hours. Set aside a few of them in which to read. In most cas­es, it comes down to mak­ing a deci­sion. Lots of folks can­not read, or have not been giv­en the gift of access to the writ­ten word. One of the Laws of Eco­nom­ics states that for every oppor­tu­ni­ty, there is an oppor­tu­ni­ty cost. If all of our spare time is invest­ed in tele­vi­sion, or exer­cise, or cof­fee shops, the cost will sure­ly be in impov­er­ish­ing our mind. And nobody wants that.

Chuck Bowie writes sus­pense-thrillers about a con­tract thief for hire. In Three Wrongs, his pro­tag­o­nist steals a con­ver­sa­tion. You could read about it just before you fall asleep, or while eat­ing lunch.