David Bouchier: Right On Schedule

Feb 5, 2018

Some people are incapable of being on time. They start by being born late, then go on to being late for school, late for work, late for dinner dates, late for their own wedding, and are only at the very last obliged to be on time for their final rendezvous.

This is infuriating for those of us who take pride in being punctual. It’s the civilized thing to do, and indeed civilization itself seems to have begun with the careful measurement of time. The Mayans had an elaborate system for keeping track of hours, days, and years, and the 5,000-year-old monolith called Stonehenge in southern England is believed to have been a calendar, although not the kind you could hang on the wall. From the earliest days, human beings wanted to measure time perhaps because, like us, they had the uneasy feeling that there was never quite enough of it.

My own schedule is moderately busy, and there are things to be remembered every day. So there’s a calendar, a paper one, on the wall, and I have a little appointment book – a kind of diary of the future – in which I write down the small events of my life before they happen: dental appointments, concerts, deadlines, and so on. There’s a clock on the wall, and another in the car, and that’s about all the scheduling equipment I need.

However, as usual, I am decades out of date. When it’s a matter of making future arrangements with more modern people, they bring out their smartphones and we all have to wait through a long period of swiping and tapping and grumbling and showing pictures of grandchildren before we can fix a date or time. Meanwhile I have taken out my notebook and achieved the same result in thirty seconds, thus saving a great deal of – well – time.

The mania for using expensive electronic devices to do what could be done much faster and at a fraction of the cost without them is, I suppose, a sign of progress, as well as being a miracle of marketing. Now I read about “apps” for your smart phone (which I don’t have) or your smartwatch (which I also don’t have) that will allow you to program your life down to the last second like a rat under observation in a test laboratory. And perhaps what these devices offer is an illusion of control over that slippery stuff called time. One such app boasts that it will “Show you how busy you are on any given day.” But I know how busy I am on any given day, it’s written on the calendar, and the battery never runs out.

Another way of organizing your life to death is to get one of those fitness trackers, like Fitbit, that follows every step you take, and measures every calorie you use, so that each day becomes a competition with yourself. Nothing is supposed to be just for pleasure. Everything has to be a test. But when I take a walk I want to enjoy the scenery and fresh air, if any, not to worry about meeting some arbitrary exercise standard.

Punctuality and fitness can both be achieved without a microchip anywhere in sight. My age group – the pre-baby-boomers – may be the last generation to understand this, so we should make the most of it. Our time, after all, is running out.

Copyright: David Bouchier