On my flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, I got the chance to watch the movie In Time starring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried. If you haven’t watched that movie, I would highly recommend it.
The movie setting is based on a future where people are engineered to stop aging at 25. You simply won’t know what’s a person’s age by look. They all look young including all the grandparents. After age 25, they will only live one more year. Then time become the only currency. Everyone pays for meal, rent and even gamble in terms of time. In other words, you will get paid in “days, hours, and minutes”, not in US dollar, Malaysian Ringgit nor UK Pound for your work. Similarly, you pay for stuff in “minutes, hours and days” too e.g. a cup of coffee may cost “10 minutes”, a taxi ride costs “25 minutes” etc.
If you think hard enough about the message conveyed through the movie, there is somehow a lot of similarity to the situation we face in this capitalism world. We trade stuff using currency, or money. But how do you get money if you inherit nothing from your ancestors? Without money already sitting in your bank, you got to make an effort to earn money. Money won’t simply come to you for nothing. It is a fact that for most people, time is in fact money.
What if you are very rich, can you buy more time? Can you use your money to exchange for more time? What if you have no assets now? Is the amount of time you will have being affected? What is the actual relationship between money and time?
Since time is a limited resource, no matter how rich or how poor you are, you only have 24 hours a day. An average person may live up to 75 years old. Some minority group who take good care of their heath with healthy diet and regular exercise may live over 100 years old. Some unlucky people may die prematurely due to accident, war or other mishaps. We all have more or less the same amount of limited time living on planet earth, regardless of how much assets you own.
As far as everyone had tried, money can’t buy immortality. All the great emperors of China centuries ago had tried many times and still failed to find a cure of aging. Anyway, technically money can’t buy you more time, but it can certainly let you reserve your time to do whatever is important and meaningful to you.
To some extent, I do think that money can buy time. If not, lots of money can at least reserve your own time for your own use. You get to decide what to do with your time because survival and basic necessity is no longer an issue.
There is a big difference on how a rich person uses his time and money versus a poor person. If you are rich, you can hire a driver so that you can do something else on the road and save time on looking for a parking space. But if you are too poor to even pay for a bus ticket, the only choice you have is to walk to your destination. In other words, a poor person may take many years to complete a task that a rich person can do in just a day.
Isn’t that says something about the richer you are, the more time you can save?
If you are not born rich, it is almost inescapable to trade your time for money. That’s the most significant action you will be doing in your entire life – selling time. After equipping yourself with some skills and knowledge, you work for someone or some corporations in exchange of money, which the money is going to take care of your daily expense. Isn’t that an activity of “selling time”?
That is the other side of the story. While rich people can buy more time and reserve their own, poor people had to worry about getting by, selling more of their personal time. One very real example is when you work overtime for the extra wages; you’ve just traded a valuable part of life.
Selling time or not, it also depends on how you perceive the work you are doing. If you are enjoying the work, if you find yourself doing meaningful things at your work place, if you are getting satisfaction out of it, that isn’t bad at all to get paid at the same time. Then instead of calling the activity “selling time”, you are in fact making good use of your time. That’s why it is so important to work on your passion. That’s why you want to get out of the rat race as soon as possible.
Comic by CWTan Copyright
What if time is the only currency?
There are some communities that practise the time exchange program. They talk about exchanging services in time, not in money terms. That creates a fair and equal society because in that community, everyone’s time is equal no matter what the service is.
For example, in Maine of USA, there is a program called Hour Exchange Portland. The concept is simple. You help a neighbour in need and earn “time credit” for each hour of service. In exchange, you can then spend your time credits on any of the hundreds of different services that other participating members offer. Let’s say John the carpenter helped Mary the doctor to build a dining table and earn 2 hours time credits, he can then use that credits to buy 2 hours worth of sailing tour from George the boat owner.
If this is widely practiced, it may create an equal society where there is no difference of rich and poor. When everyone is equal, there will be a higher level of trust thus reducing fear and crime. In a fair world, we can focus on what matters in our life and no longer “follow the money”.
Time is the most valuable commodity
Once again, I stressed that time is the most valuable commodity because it is limited and irretrievable. That’s why you are interested in the tips and tricks to make more money, so that you can buy more time. That’s the reason why you want to get more productive in order to get things done in the shortest time. Once the time is gone, it is gone. It is not coming back regardless of how much money you have.
In this world as long as human beings are mortal, money will not be the only currency. Time is an even more important currency. In order to get something valuable in return, you either spend your money, or your time, or even both.
For example, you would pay money for a new gadget. That can be done with money alone. What if you want a great relationship with your spouse? Can you do it with money alone? You can buy yourself a wife but you can’t buy her heart. You may need to invest both time and also money to make the relationship works. Every effort you make cost you time.
What if you can live forever?
Many movies had been made about immortality, anti-aging, and human clones. Human being able to live forever is such a fascinating topic to talked about. Let’s assume that you will have unlimited time at your expense, how would you think about life, money and time? The biggest impact I think is that money will become obsolete. Why? It is because there is no hurry to do anything at all. You can truly walk the path at your own pace. Whenever you need something in exchange, you just trade it with the unlimited time you have.
Enough of the fiction. Realizing that this is not going to happen, you better make the greatest use of your limited time now. Perhaps money can buy a little bit of time, but certainly not everything you need to be happy and satisfied.
This article is originally published in Money Compass Magazine August-September 2012 Edition.