Sunday, July 16, 2006

Welcome to "Braided" Time

On a recent visit to Minnesota a friend of mine introduced me to the idea of "braided" time. The average American segregates such activities as work, shopping, dining out, exercise, and socializing. And, because of the way we have organized our towns and cities, this means an average of six car trips per day per household in addition to any commute to work, according to Jane Holtz Kay, author of Asphalt Nation.

But, on this day in this small town tucked along the Mississippi River, I accompanied my friend and his family as we engaged in all these activities at the same time without ever getting into a car. From his house, we walked to the center of town to get breakfast at a local eatery dedicated to providing fare from local food sources. Once there he and his family met and talked with people they knew. After that we popped over to the farmers' market, where he met yet more people and arranged meetings related to his work as a college professor. Then, there was the pleasant socializing with the vendors at the market, many of whom raise or make their own products. We were never in a hurry and yet we got much done, all as part of a family outing.

As we walked back to his home, he pointed to a delivery car in which the driver went all of two blocks to make her delivery. "She needed to save time so she can go to the gym and get some exercise later," he quipped.

While it's true that people who live in the center of large, walkable cities experience "braided" time quite frequently, those of us who live in smaller, but sprawled out towns and cities find ourselves reaching for the car keys to "save time." The question is, "Save time for what?" Why do we consider the time we spend in transit as wasted time? Why can't the time we spend getting somewhere be turned to some good use?

As we walked those streets along the Mississippi River, I didn't get the sense that time was contracting or being wasted. In fact, I felt time expanding as the things we needed to do that day got done naturally without any special sense of urgency and without any need to "save time."

In his book Fooled By Randomness, Nassim Nicholas Taleb divides the world into maximizers and satisficers (people who try to blend satisfying with maximizing). We think that the fossil-fueled world which allows us to annihilate space is helping us to maximize our lives by giving us concentrated doses of exercise and entertainment and socializing in different places all connected by automobile travel. In the end, however, we spend oodles of time in the car and in traffic.

With "braided" time my friend and I managed to get many tasks done at once--all to our satisfaction--but perhaps not with the intensity of a racquetball game. Which sounds better to you?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a great essay because it sells the benefits very clearly.

The average car costs about $7000-9000 per year. If people can find a way not to need a car, then they also may not need to work as many hours and can afford those walks, bike rides to the store, and get a workout without a gym pass.