The «hunger for time» of consumerism

Today the marked offers us entertainment, but has lost the real sense of celebrations

By Luigino Bruni

published on Mondo e Missione, May 2012

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On 30 May, Professor Luigino Bruni will hold one of the main talks at the theological-pastoral Congresses, at the Fair of Milan, in the context of the VII Would Meeting for Families. The theme he will address will be: “The family, work and celebrations in today’s world.”

There is a new form of hunger that is striking our consumer and capitalistic societies: hunger for time. One of the reasons one time at  the root of the prohibition on lending money with interest in return (or usury), was the conviction that time was not a good at human beings disposition, but belonged to God.

And therefore, if time belongs to God, and if in a money loan what changes between the giving of the loan and its restitution is only time (that has passed), and if I ask for interest on it, its as if I was making a profit on time.

Today we observe, instead, the opposite scenario: time is the principal resource exchanged on the market: in fact, what are housecleaning tools, frozen foods, dry cleaners, caregivers, domestic cleaners, high speed trains and air travel… if not the selling and acquisition of time? The «market of time» is by far on the increase and the one showing constant growth.

The crucial question, however, becomes: buy time to do what? In fact, one of the main paradoxes of our times is found on this plane: we kill ourselves to buy time freed up from occupations that we do not like (or that we no longer like), without generally having any idea on the good use of time freed up or bought. And so the absurd happens: the time, which we acquire thanks to the wealth earned in the labour market, we invest to still work more or to consume, thus falling into a «vicious cycle» totally within the economic sphere. We are free to move in many places, but essentially slaves of the one meta-place which is called the market. This hunger for time, as a consequence, can never be satiated, creating with it various neurosis and illnesses.

An evident sign of this new illness is the transformation of feasts into entertainment. In traditional cultures, work time was counted in relationship to the time of feast days. A feast day was celebrated because it was the fruit of work time (in the fields or in the factory), and required a lot of time in both its preparation and in its celebration. Religious feasts, baptisms and matrimonies were all prepared long before the date, and celebrated for a long time during them: time was their main fuel.

The feast, then, could not be bought on any market, because it was an event of gratuity, a relational good, and for this reason the feast was always a slow experience. In fact, the «waste of time» is really one of the fundamental characteristics of a feast, otherwise it would not be one.

The current culture of famine of time no longer knows what a feast is (because it uses and consumes, and does not love, time), but entertainment, which instead can and must be bought, does not even require the company of others. Entertainment does not need time, but must be quick, fast. If today we do not recuperate a healthy rapport with time-as-gratuity, and we instead continue to buy and use it, we will progressively loose contact with the joy of living, which does not come from entertainment (that perhaps knows pleasure), but only from a feast-celebration.

With this article, we conclude our journey of “To Fight Hunger I will change my life.” I warmly thank Luigino Bruni – whose collaboration with Mondo e Missione will continue in other ways – for his valuable and appreciated contributions.

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