I’ve often made reference on My Money Design that time is the only true currency. Even when we think of money as a currency, really all we’re doing with it is buying the convenience of goods and services that we would otherwise have to use our time to obtain.
And while as deep or philosophical as I think I’m being, I was pleasantly surprised to come across a movie a movie with a subtle plot that made me think about how our society looks at the value of time and money.
So don’t laugh. The movie was the sci-fi flick In Time with Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried. I know, I know – Not the best example. I’m sorry if I’ve already lost you, but hear me out. There will be a point to all of this.
Could the Value of Time Be a True Currency?
The thing that intrigued me about it and caused me to write this post was the premise. Basically it goes like this: In the future, the value of time is so great that you pay for everything with it instead of money. The way it works is that you stop aging at 25 and you receive one year of “time” that you wear on your arm. Each second that you live your time clock on your arm decreases. Every time you make a purchase, it goes down even faster. Think of it like a running checking account balance that is constantly getting lower and lower. When it finally hits zero, you die.
You can increase your time currency by working to earn more “time”. You can also give it away to others by simply holding their arm. However, unfortunately the balances of society are such that the rich and elite control all the prices on everything, and that makes it so that the lower class can barely get by. There are also gangs that go around and steal time from people.
If you’re lucky enough to be a member of the upper society, then you get to horde all the time that your family has “earned”. Essentially you and your loved ones can live forever.
Parallels Between What is Happening Now:
As ridiculous of an economy as that may be (even for a sci-fi movie), I found it to be an interesting metaphor for the way our society understands and values time.
Consider the following:
- Most of us start off in this world with nothing but time. We graduate from college starting with almost no savings or possibly even in deep student loan debt. But we have a strong 30 to 50 years of time that we can work.
- Early in our careers we come to depend on material processions, needing more and more things. Cars, mortgages, gadgets, etc. In order to get more money, we trade more of our time by working longer, going after promotions, or even getting other jobs. We’re placing more emphasis on the things we want rather than our time.
- The unfortunate ones get stuck in this rut. They may work paycheck to paycheck for decades never really sufficiently saving or preparing for a future where they might not be able to provide for themselves.
- Eventually they can no longer work due to medical problems or other reasons. Without money they don’t have access to the best medical care or may have to continue to live in less than desirable living conditions (i.e. run down neighborhoods – how many of you know an elder person who refuses to leave their home even though the old neighborhood has gone to hell?)
- Most regrettably of all is that while they were trading their time for money to buy more stuff, they squandered the time they could have spent with their loved ones: Spouse, children, parents, etc.
- The ones who were smart and stashed their money away were able to buy their time back.
- They can afford proper medical attention and prescriptions. They can pay their bills. They can move if they want to.
- They can retire by Age 65 or sooner. They can spend their golden years with their families and grandchildren enjoying whatever time is that they may have left.
- The truly savvy ones will find a way to make sure that their fortune passes on to their other family members so that they can enjoy the same privileges as well. Although they are not “immortal” in the sense of the definition, their money and family name can carry on like a dynasty through generations.
So is it really such a stretch that people in the future would work all day at their factory jobs just to extend their lives by a few more hours? People of today do the same thing. They trade their current time for money. That money may get them by until next week; it may get them by a little more. But unless they are saving and stashing away for a later date, the likelihood of prolonging their lives will be significantly reduced.
Keeping Perspective on What I Value:
The last thing I want to do is work my entire life only to sit upon my golden throne as an old man and realize that life had passed me by. My children are grown, my loved ones distant, and my health withering. I consider this to be an extreme ending to a life where priorities were not properly aligned.
But in the context of this discussion, the relationship between time and money makes this hard to realize. Most people do not understand the value of time, and they see their only opportunity to increase their well-being by working more hours. The allure of overtime and increased pay makes it an even sweeter deal to pass up. They are forced into a life of submission where they feel their employers will terminate their roles if they don’t “play along”. And to top it all off all the rising costs with gas, food, education, gadgets, and entertainment only widen the gap that much further.
There have been a number of people that urge us to think of our wants and needs in terms of time rather than dollar amount. When you use a credit card or money in the bank, it’s easy to spend a thousand dollars on something. When you think about how it took you a year to save up that thousand dollars, you might re-consider the actual urgency of that material possession. Please give this philosophy some thought and apply it the next time you think about how you want to spend your time on something. You might just find that you’re more valuable than you think.
Though we may never get to a point where there’s a running clock on our arm and we use it to pay for everything with our time, make no mistake: We already pay for everything with our time. We don’t value it as we should. We may exchange it for money, relationships, services, or leisure, but it all comes from our ultimate currency: The time we have left in this life.
Images courtesy of IMDB | FreeDigitalPhotos.net