“People used to have time to live and enjoy themselves, but there is not time anymore for anything but work, work, work. I was wishing I had lived altogether in those good old days when people had time for things they wanted to do.”
Familiar complaints until you consider the above words were written in 1920 by Laura Ingalls Wilder! Flipping through a collection of columns the beloved children’s author wrote before she penned the popular Little House series, I came across one titled What Became of the Time We Saved?
Laura tells of going to a meeting in a neighbouring town by car, taking less than an hour for a trip that used to take three hours by horse and buggy.
“Nearly everyone was late,” she writes, “and all seemed in a hurry. We hurried through the proceedings; we hurried in our friendly exchanges of conversation; we hurried away; and we hurried all the way home where we arrived late as usual. What became of the time the motor car saved us? Why was everyone late and in a hurry? I used to drive leisurely with a team, spend a pleasant afternoon and reach home not much later than I did this time, and all with a sense of there being time enough, instead of a feeling of rush and hurry. We have so many machines and so many helps, in one way and another, to save time; and yet I wonder what we do with the time we save. Nobody seems to have any!”
If Laura longed for the good old days before modern conveniences ate up all our time, what possible hope is there for us a century later? What happened anyway?
Studies used to predict that if we kept inventing work-saving devices at the rate we were, by the year 2000 we would only be putting in four hour days and coming home to relax in a house that did all the housework for us at a touch of a button. It’s true hardly anyone works 40 hours a week anymore. These days most people work 80 hours. Even when we’re off work we’re still linked by an umbilical cord of cellphones and computers.
Perhaps what we failed to realize was all these devices would take a great deal of time and money to create, more time and money to pay for and even more time and money to maintain and upgrade.
Are the dishwashers, microwaves and computers really worth it?
Do we really need to spend a week’s wages on a robotic vacuum cleaner to do a task that only takes us 15 minutes the old-fashioned way?
Laura writes about how her husband, Almanzo, arrived home one afternoon proudly packing a brand new butter churn that brought butter in only three minutes, while Laura’s old wooden dash churn took half a day.
The new churn was fast, but it was also difficult to look after. The screws that loosened the blades so they could be taken off for cleaning never wanted to loosen and Wilder would inevitably cut herself on the sharp tin when she was removing them.
Over and over she asked Almanzo to bring the old wooden churn down from the rafters in the barn. Over and over Almanzo told her that the new churn could bring butter in only three minutes. Three minutes!
Finally Laura stood in front of him with bandaged hand and demanded he fetch her old churn.
“But the new one brings butter in only three . . .”
“The new one is broken,” Laura interrupted.
“What happened?” asked Almanzo.
“I dropped it,” Laura said. “Just as far as I could.”
Laura confesses to her readers how, in a final fit of rage, she picked up the churn, carried it to the back step and flung it down the hill to the creek, only to run after it and give it a couple well placed kicks for good measure. Maybe that’s what we need to do with all of our time-saving devices.
Time is everything. Yet, it is nothing at all.
Shannon McKinnon will be away until the week of Oct. 10. In the meantime we hope you enjoy these previously published columns.