Tempus Fugit

− Hi. Can I ask you something?
− I don’t see why not.
− How long do I have?
− You want an accurate answer or will I make it up to make you feel immortal?
− No, the truth of course.
− OK, 24 years, 123 days, 4 hours and 16 minutes. 8889 days or 213,000 hours, 12.8 million minutes. Accurate enough?
− Yes, thanks. 8889 days doesn’t sound that much. 24 years ago I was already 35, and it doesn’t seem that long ago.
− True, and don’t forget how time seems to gather pace as you age.
− Thanks a bunch! So that’ll make me just under 84 when I shuttle off, which bears out the theory about knowing when you will die.
− What’s that? Not that God-awful idea in Tuesdays with Morrie? The one where you note the first day you spent more time looking back than looking forward and double it? Pile of crap, you know. Do you want to know how it ends?
− No, I don’t think so, thanks.
− So, why did you ask how long?
− I was reading about climate change and the prediction that Ireland will be overwhelmed with floods and storms and baking hot summers within the next few years and I was wondering whether it would be in my lifetime.
− It will.
− OK, so what am I going to do with the 24 years and some? I’ve been wondering if it’s all downhill from now.
− Well, let’s see. You currently spend 16.7% of your time watching television. And that’s actually 24.6% of your waking time. Can you go downhill from that?
− Sure. Not all of that is a waste – though nearly all. I’m assuming there will still be TV in 24 years, and that it will still be full of reality shows and soaps and movie re-runs?
− Yes, and news will be available on premium-rate channels which you’ll be vetted for before you can subscribe. Except during elections, when it will predominate on the soaps channels. There’ll be the ‘live war’ channel, and a whole raft of live disasters channels, mostly featuring storms, hurricanes, floods and suchlike
− And will I spend 16.7% of my time watching TV in 20 years time?
− No, 25%, which will amount to one third of your waking life. You’ll actually be sat in front of the holographic 3D light box on your coffee table, as it will be then, for one in every three minutes of your conscious existence. The quality of the input will have gone down, and your lack of processing will have gone up, so you’ll effectively be vegetating.
− What else will I be doing that I don’t do now?
− Well, you currently sleep 31% of your time, and that’ll drop to 25%, as you’ll need less. Not to mention the time you currently spend on the toilet, 1.7% of your waking time, will treble. You currently read 4.2% of your time, and I’d be lying if I said you’ll become a literary leviathan by then. You’ll try to read for half the amount of time you do now – you just won’t have the attention span. You currently spend 6.3% of your time eating, which is taken up with one hot meal and two snacks a day, with conversation and pace to them. This will remain the same, though you will eat less and more slowly, and the conversation will be desultory, or non-existent, depending on whether you outlive your wife.
− I hadn’t thought of being alone. Will I be? Alone? Wouldn’t that have a big impact on my use of time?
− Yes, but you don’t get to know about anyone else, so let’s make the assumption you go before she does.
− OK, let’s. What about exercise? I must spend an average of an hour a day in the gym or walking the dog?
− You currently spend 4.2% of your time on that, and it will halve, as you become less able to walk, though you’ll still try, but it will take you ages to get anywhere, so it will take 2% of your time. The gym membership will lapse pretty soon.
− So I make pots – I spend 4.2% of my time in the pottery – not a lot, I know, but I guess that falls away.
− Yes, and the 8% you spend earning your living on the computer. That goes pretty soon too, though you’d have it continue, you pass your sell-by date. Pretty ignominious really, but let’s not dwell on how everything falls away. You’re depressed enough already.
− What else?
− You spend time maintaining your home, cleaning (though that hardly counts), washing, doing paperwork and emailing, shopping, driving and lots of little things. Sex takes 0.3% of your time now, and you can guess how much that’ll be in 20 year’ time.
− Thanks. Let’s not dwell on that slippery slope.
− You currently spend 4% of your time doing nothing. On a good day. In 20 years’ time that’s trebled, and while your down-time now is infused with thoughts and ideas, creative nuggets, angst and schemes, it will be infused with confusion and numbness, blank spots and desperate attempts to recall names.
− Fuck. So it is all down-hill from here on in? Does it have to be? Shouldn’t I have one last fling? Another joust at the windmills of life? Take on a big challenge? Bite off more than I can chew?
− You really do fancy yourself as Don Quixote, don’t you. I was thinking more of Sancho Panza…
− Or maybe Brando in On the Waterfront: “I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.”
− What I’ve told you is what will happen if nothing else changes. How it might be if the context stays the same and you don’t make anything happen. There are two options. Either you try and make changes, rather than strutting and fretting your last 213,000 hours upon the stage, or the world will change so fundamentally that whatever you think you’re going to do will be changed for you.
− And?
− And I’m not going to tell you how the world will change that will affect your life, but rest assured it will. I’m going to say that regardless of how the world is going to change – the climate, the migration of your species, the religious violence, the political violence, the economic injustice blaadie blaadie blaa – you’re going to have to make your own changes. Start with the hours in the day. Start with the minutes if you prefer, but make some changes, because the life force will not always be so strong. The opportunities for change will not be so great.
− OK, so. Any suggestions?
− That’s for another day, if you can spare some of that wasted time to think about it.

Doing the Business

He wants to delay the Board meeting because he hasn’t put in the time to prepare for it, because he has another job to attend to and even though this company should be taking all his attention, he is unable to give it. He does the other job because he needs the money because this company isn’t making any. The other job involves working for the man who has invested in this company also, so he is trapped. This man is paying him less than the market rate, which means he is working for too little to allow his company the oxygen it needs, or to allow him to replace himself in this company. He will delay the Board meeting and send signals to the Directors that he is not able to support the little green shoot which this company is. He doesn’t want to send these signals because this is his little experiment, his departure from the claustrophobia of corporate life. He doesn’t want the little green shoot to wither because he has spent his savings and re-mortgaged his house to get it started. He is going to deliver a failure, and it won’t be his fault. Well, not altogether. He made a choice to take in the investor, as a last-ditch attempt to keep his little green shoot alive, to give it water. He didn’t see the tangle he was creating when he took in the investment, and for that, it is his fault. He didn’t stand firm on his business fees with the investor, or on his own time, because he was indebted, because his family was moving into rented accommodation. It is also be the fault of the investor, who has starved the company of income because he invested in order to acquire the resources and not the activities of the company. This man can afford to lose his investment, and he has extracted his pint of blood already, so he can walk away. But he is being short-sighted because he could so easily pay the market rate for what he is getting, and by doing so, feed the little green shoot and allow the company to grow. He owns his share of that growth, so his investment would pay dividends. But he is not focusing on the little green shoot. He is focusing on his own business and what this company can do for it.
This impending failure is unnecessary. For the want of a little more support, the green shoot will not grow. For the want of water, this man will lose his self esteem. His family will lose their respect. His business will fail.

I designed yet another albatross which I knew, from the moment I opened the New Blank Document and started to type the headline, would not fly. It was a big and complex study collecting a swathe of sectoral information. It assessed ongoing awareness and tracked response to this and that and the other, and the pathway to purchase, and brand engagement, and uncle Tom Cobbley’s nuts. It wouldn’t fly because it was designed by one tired has-been who had done this thing many times before, and would be offered to executives who don’t have budgets by another tired has-been who doesn’t understand what it is he is offering. If it were in great demand, if it would be a success, the market would have demanded it, or someone else would be busy making money out of it.
So why did I design it? Because the second tired has-been needed something to hang on to. He’d been pulled from his comfortable job as an advertising sales manager, selling printed ads in printed magazines, and asked, no told, to sell concepts to people without budgets. His past was chequered and his profitability in question. It’s what happens to has-beens. The gradually fade out. Their light which once shone brightly is dimmed and those around them are cast in shadow. The second has-been, in his big Mercedes, which is already six years old, is not stupid. He knows the writing is on the wall. This, in fact, is his last chance. He is at sea. He has been in to meetings and made the right noises, smiled and joked with his clients. He’s tapped his contacts, chased his ‘friends’ and had his meetings and it has resulted in too little. So this albatross would give him something concrete to talk about. It would allow him to hold up his head in budgeting meetings and perhaps find one or two clients with deeper pockets who wanted to please, or more likely wanted something to justify their own lives.
You could have said ‘no’. You could have explained the cyclicity of failure to the second tired has-been and asked him to hang up his hat. You could have sat down and written your novel, or thrown your pots. You could have said ‘enough is enough’. But you’d have been denying your value, your status as a man who is ‘needed’. You’d have been giving in to the cynicism of a has-been who knows in his heart that this albatross won’t fly.