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Syed Reza
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Some Thoughts on Time

It's been a long time since I last posted anything here so I thought I would just ramble on for a while. It's been difficult to write lately mostly due to my working longer hours than expected. I shouldn't say that, it feels a little disingenuous to call it "working" because by tangible taxable standards, I don't actually do anything. That becomes a bit problematic when so much of my self-identity is derived from work.

It may not be expressed in words, but I can sort of feel the "what the hell are you doing with your life?" whenever my job or lack thereof comes into polite conversation among friends and family. Of course on the surface, almost everyone expresses a somewhat rehearsed "you can do it". I do get the occasional "what in the world are you thinking" which can be refreshing.

Those same exact thoughts, the little voice saying "is this what you want to do with your life?" was the reason I left a life of comfortable software employment. That voice with those questions has a way of showing up on the faces of friends and acquaintances, but it might just be in my head. I partly hope it never goes away, because I think it's good to question the value of what you're doing. Time is after all the most limiting factor.

The work on this project has been challenging and fun, and I'm pretty certain that I would not have the opportunity to do this sort of work in my previous line of work. What a strange concept, "not having the opportunity to do something", but it's really true, that's just how time works, if you do some activity for the bulk of your time, you may not have the time to do some other activity. There's a fairly small number of productive focused hours in a day and very few of us are fortunate enough to get to choose how we allocate those hours.

For most people, like myself, some time gets captured in the present to be consumed later, in other words, you save money to buy yourself time in the future, retirement works similarly. If you do it right, the time captured in the present is compressed and you get more time out of it later, in other words you save at a rate higher than your rate of future consumption.

I think this model of working as much as you can until you're old enough to retire does not make much sense. This model sort of assumes that your brain is the same now as it will be when you're 60, it assumes that the quality of time now is equal to the quality of time later. I can tell from just the last 10 years, that your body changes (more like deteriorates). I have drastically different sleep patterns, pulling all nighters is nearly impossible, my back hurts more often, and so on, so I cannot imagine that the quality of time is homogeneous throughout life. And then there is the unpredictable cost of healthcare when you're older which further complicates things.

Of course, I should not say that the model "does not make sense", it absolutely makes sense for the employer, you extract the most productive hours from your employee when they are at their best. You ask them to retire after their usefulness has expired. It's pretty terrible.

None of this seems right and of course it needs to be solved. I do not think enough direct effort goes into automation, robots at warehouses are not progressing fast enough, repeatable office tasks are still being done manually, and so on. I think it's a shortage of programmers and a lack of incentives, the upfront costs are high in terms of hardware and salaries, and it's cheaper to keep hiring humans. For many of the non-life-or-death automation tasks, I think not-automating just comes down to the incentives, not to any question of technical possibility.

So why is free-time so important? I think it’s important because humans are almost endowed by nature with this amazingly complex and beautiful brain. It’s a thing that constantly wants to learn, absorb information, and create new information. To not utilize that brain, to not give it every opportunity to do what it does best is wasteful. Society needs to be structured to incentivize creativity, to utilize this miracle of evolution to its fullest.

If you ignore work time under the assumption that most people are occupied by some employer or some other unfortunate emergent agent of society, the time that’s left over is a bit more fragmented, between mornings, evenings, and sleep. Life gets squeezed into these hours, chores, relationships, and everything else. This left over time is extremely precious and I think recognizing the preciousness of that time can hopefully help catalyze the societal changes that we need.

Oddly enough and much to my own surprise, this ties into my efforts on this project. More and more our left over time is being captured by the algorithms of various online services in an effort to increase ad-revenue. The cost of convenience that we pay for centralized streaming services is higher than we realize, we pay that cost in time, we pay that cost in attention, and we pay that cost not in what we do but in what we as a direct consequence do not do. I think users should be able to consume their content with the same convenience of centralized streaming services, and they should for example be encouraged to finish reading that book they are reading, to finish writing that story they were writing, not to face a barrage of targeted content recommendations. I think Fezly helps a bit towards staying on task, picking up where you left off across multiple devices is a tiny feature that goes a long way.