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Our Intimate Relationship with Time

Every single person has an intimate relationship with time. The Oxford English Dictionary informs us that the word “time” is the most commonly used noun. “Year” is third and “day” and “week” come in in the top-20.

Researchers have found that the average person sleeps, or attempts to sleep, about nine hours a day. If the person lives to 80, he or she will sleep for 30 years. People who die at 80 will also have lived 700,000 hours, with 90,000 of those hours on the job.

What are we doing when we aren’t sleeping or working? In the US, the second-largest use of our time is … television. According to Nielsen, as recently as 2018, we spent four hours a day watching it. That’s broadcast television in real time. We’re not talking time-shifting DVR or YouTube, just plain TV. And nearly a quarter of that time is commercials. Multiply the numbers out over a lifetime, and you’re likely to spend well over two years of your life just watching commercials. TV isn’t even a majority of the media we consume. According to the same Nielsen study we spend 11 hours a day consuming media, which includes reading, listening, and watching.

The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote:

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing.

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