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At the crossroads of artistic insight and intellectual curiosity, we find The Edge of Reason. Dive into the heart of artistic.




Rooted in enlightenment thinking and discover how contemporary creators are holding a mirror up to society to reflect who we are, where we've been, and where we're headed.


Join me.


Jeff Chang, at The Edge of Reason, a new limited podcast from Atlantic Rethink, the branded content studio at The Atlantic, and Hauser and Worth.


Ian, when I sent you that voice note yesterday, I just wanted to let you in my head a little bit. Hello, Ian. Alas, I'm waiting at the bus stop andsure, it seems it will never come. A small glimpse into how anxious I am, just waiting for anything. I don't know what to do. Do I just start walking? Do I give up? Do I walk to the Metro? At this point, who really knows? It's been probably four minutes.


It was only four minutes, Becka. It's not very much time.


It's embarrassing. I'm standing there, and while I'm waiting, I'm switching between two modes of like, I should be making the most of this time. Let me read that article my friend sent me or check my emails, or like, This is insane. It's only been four minutes. I should be a bit more mindful. But I know that I don't want to be wasting my time just standing there. I'm Becker Rasheed, producer of How to Keep Time, and I'm here with my co-host, Ian Bogost.




Becker. Hey, Ian. A lot of your writing and reporting here at the Atlantic is about technology and all the ways it's changed how we understand ourselves and the people around us. But I also think about how much has changed our relationship with time.


Oh, yeah, sure. I mean, technology, in general, tends to make things faster, right? Of course. Trains and airplanes get you places faster. Factories and their machines build things faster. But communication technologies, telephones and the internet and whatnot, those allow us to send and receive information faster and a lot more frequently, too.


All of those emails and texts and notifications keep us occupied at every given moment. It gives us more stuff to do, and it makes it easier to do something all the time, right? Yeah, all the time. I think that's exactly what makes it harder to tolerate wasting time, just doing nothing or being alone with your thoughts.


Your laptop, your smartphone, all the stuff you bring with you, they do make it easier to get more work done or more socializing or banking or whatever it is that you're doing on.


Your phone. Right. Right.


So for one part, we're more efficient, but we still continue to feel like there's just not enough time in the day. Right. And you know, Becka, in your last season, you talked about the difficulty of building meaningful relationships. And when it comes down to it, most people, they just need more time to do that.


But even when we do have more than enough time, we don't know how to lean into the moment the way we used to. We're either anxiously planning for the next task or we're being compulsively productive because we're nervous about free time in this new way.


Yeah, I mean, all this time stuff can just feel really slippery. One moment you know what you want to do and you just can't find the time to do it. But then the next moment you're just swimming in time and you don't know what to do with. Right. Hopefully, we can make sense of some of those problems this season.


This is how to keep time.


Becker, when you're thinking about wasting time, what do you mean? Wasting time compared to what? To doing more work? Or waiting to get back to your desk to do more work so that you can what? Send more emails? Isn't that just a waste of time, too?


No, I know. I know, but I always have the thought in the back of my head that my time is limited. There's actually something called chronophobia. Chronophobia. Chronophobia, where some people really worry about that experience of time passing or I can understand that impulse to feel like time is withering away if you're not doing something productive with it. I don't know. It makes me wonder how we got to this point of measuring our own time and other people's time. How do we actually spend less of our time measuring how much of it is being wasted?


When you think about it, it isn't your time always being put to use. You're there in your body and your mind. You're living through your day and your life no matter what you're getting done. And your time is finite. Your years on Earth are numbered and you're never going to be able to do everything you want to do or everything possible because of that. So maybe we, rather than chasing it, need to figure out how to be in time, being in time rather than chasing time.


I was.


Completely freaked out when I first did this calculation and figured out that the average lifespan in the developed world is around 4,000 weeks. Obviously, you don't know how many weeks you're going to get in any individual case.


So, Ian, that's Oliver Berkman. He's a journalist and an author. He used to write a column for The Guardian where he wrote a lot about productivity hacks and personal development.


This fact of it being finite is something that I think we obviously intellectually understand, but we don't behave on a day to day basis as if time were finite.


During our interview, he mentioned what he called disillusionment with all the self-help solutions.


Yeah, I feel that. I think.


An awful lot of that conventional productivity advice is really based on keeping this fantasy alive that very soon, next few weeks, next few months, at some point, you're going to get to this place where you are on top of things, where you have got your arms around everything. You're the air traffic controller of your life.


But then one day after years of being in the weeds of the lifestyle advice, he had a epiphany on a park bench during a really stressful week when he realized that none of the time management hacks.


Were working. I was trying increasingly, frenetically, and frantically, and desperately to come up with a set of techniques and scheduling tricks that would enable me to get through this ridiculous quantity of stuff and just being hit by the thought like, Oh, it's impossible. Oh, I see. Right. It's impossible.


Oh, boy. Becka, I have definitely also spent years chasing time. I know that feeling. But maybe Berkman is right and that the trick is just to accept that it's impossible.


Berkman wrote a book in 2021 called 4,000 Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, where he walks readers through his personal journey with trying to get on top of it all, on top of time, and failing misery.


We're constantly trying to reach a Godlike position over our time.


Okay, when you say a Godlike position, I'm thinking like all forgiving, most merciful. But when you say Godlike position over time, what do you mean by that?


I think, and again, to some extent, this may just be the hangups and screw-ups of me and some other people, but I think that a lot of what we're doing when we claim that we're engaging in becoming more productive, more efficient, getting on top of things, getting organized is really an attempt to feel unlimited with respect to time, with respect to the tasks, responsibilities, goals, ambitions we might have for using our time. It's a way of not having to feel what it really feels like to be finite, to have to make tough choices, to have to acknowledge that there are always going to be more things that it would be meaningful to do with time than we're ever going to have the opportunity to do.


It's interesting you say that. I went through this phase in my early 20s where I realized if I wanted to be amazingly accomplished at anything, I would have had to have started when I was three years old. Whether that's gymnastics or ice skating or what have you, I was already decades behind. It can be really hard to cope with the realization that that time is gone and you may not have ample time to get there in the future.


I think obviously it is possible in a very down to earth way to use one's time well for some future goal, right? But I think that on a deeper level, what a lot of us are doing when we're trying to use time well in that sense, when we're deeply committed, as American culture is especially deeply committed to the idea that every moment must be used maximally well. It's not only that that becomes a very capitalistic idea where the only real benefit is the profit motive. It's also just the fact that it's focused on the future, right? It's defining everything about now in terms of some more important moment coming later when it's going to actually have its value, it's going to cash out. It's going to have been worth doing. And so because what happens when you do this is that you end up missing your life, you end up missing the present. Or to speak to what you were saying, focused on regret that you didn't start using your time in this rigorously instrumental way earlier in the past, you get to this very strange conclusion, the only real way to use time really well to actually find meaning in the present is, by some definition of the term, to waste it.


I think that in many ways, because of the world in which we live that is so completely committed to the idea that time must be used for future benefits, everything we think of as wasting time, as pure idleness, is really defined as that because it doesn't lead to something in.


The future. Right. I'm even referencing my childhood as wasted time when I should have been training to be a fitness instead of just like a childhood. But in adulthood, it's harder to see it that way because efficiency, time management, and productivity are all essential elements in how we make a living. So how can we approach this idea of wasting time and how we're conditioned to think about it not as something pulling us away from productivity, but just as a part of life?


It's something that takes a positive effort. It feels like you shouldn't just be using your leisure time to go on a run. You have to be training for a 10K or something. You have to have fitness goals. It's a bit embarrassing in some way maybe to have a hobby these days, but it's really not embarrassing to have a side hustle. The only real difference is that one of those is something you're trying to turn into a business. Whereas if what you like doing is collecting, I don't know, stamps from around the world, that doesn't really work anymore. I'm not sure what I'm trying to stamp collecting these days, but.


It- Like a non-productive hobby for sheer enjoyment, but there's nothing materially valuable about that. Maybe with the- Right.


I mean, well, the philosopher Ciaran Satya, he uses the phrase, Atelic activities. Activities that are not given their meaning by their tilos or where they are headed. If I make the attempt to be more fully present, it's not going to feel great at first because I'm running against everything I've been conditioned to feel and to think.




Absolutely true in listening, really listening to other people incredibly hard. It's really hard not to just spend a conversation thinking about what you plan to say next when the noise coming from the other person ceases for a bit, which is, of course, not really listening. For me, a big part of this is just understanding that this does not feel second nature to many others.


I hear you. I mean, even in this moment, I find myself thinking about what you're saying and also ahead to all the questions that I have left to get through. It's like when someone asks me what my name is and then I tell them and they tell me theirs, but all I can remember is my name that I said out loud.


Beca, maybe it's a problem in our culture rather than in us. We're just all so wound up over making the most of every moment. So much that we don't even really know anymore what making the most of a moment would even mean.


And, Ian, I have even had friends tell me they're on dating apps almost as a way to productively use their time instead of scrolling on Instagram. At least they're building towards a relationship.


Okay, it's been a long time since I've dated, and I never used dating apps. Are you saying your friends are like, Well, got some downtime. I better get my dating in?


Yes, definitely. Dating is its own version of a productive hobby, in my opinion.


I guess it makes sense in a certain way. Like dating as productivity or as an investment in your future partnership or whatever it is that you're after. Maybe that's where that idea comes from, that it's, I don't want to waste my time if this isn't going anywhere. That sentiment is about progress, that a relationship is about moving forward and building into whatever comes next. God forbid your relationship isn't going anywhere, right? Right. But where is anywhere? Anyway.


I don't know. I feel like I'm happiest when I'm just wasting time with people. When I'm trying to make the most of my time with someone, anyone, romantic or otherwise, I'm not at least trying to think about how much of my time they're taking up or the most efficient way to be with them, or whether it's going somewhere or whether it's productive.


If I am just around the house with my son and my wife, it's very easy to fall into what needs doing next. This chore, that chore, preparing for the next day. I think if you can do anything to put yourself in a position where you have all gone on a walk or all gone to visit something or all watching the movie or whatever it is, if there's a a framework around that, it's a little bit easier to step away from that instrumentalist mindset. When I remember, I think also bringing attention to the senses as opposed to thought is really important. Just literally paying attention to sight, sound, touch, smell, whatever is a way of reducing the power that otherwise, naturally, for people like me anyway, goes to compulsive thought.


So how can I be both mindful and engaged with my time more generally without having to go full, zen, mental, shut down mode?


Just to be clear, I find being in this mindset rather than the instrumental, future-focused one, really difficult. I think you can certainly get lost in thought. I'm not sure I want to condemn that because I think sometimes that can be a perfectly meaningful thing to do, but understand and expect that it's going to feel uncomfortable at the beginning. A lot of people these days say they don't have time to read anymore. I think what they often really mean is that they don't like the experience of sitting down with a book because their minds are so conditioned to moving fast that it feels unpleasant. I've certainly had that experience. All I can do, and I find it extraordinarily effective, but it doesn't feel like an incredibly great insight or anything, but all I do is I remind myself that this is how the first couple of pages feel when you're wired for speed and you're just sitting down and you're just beginning to read a novel. And that's fine, but the discomfort does not kill you and it lifts.


Oliver, most of our conversation has been about the necessary mindset shift that's required to be more in tune with each moment. It makes me think about my friends with kids because they have to be super present with their child in the moment, be present with themselves enough to be patient with their kid. They also need to keep up with all the productive tasks and demands to keep up with their own lives. I mean, how do we balance these competing priorities when there is an instrumental goal in the case of raising a child and making them into a compassionate human being in the future who can exist and thrive on their own and also be present with them in the moment?


I find parenting to be an extraordinary crucible for all of this just because there is so much pressure, both internally and externally, to treat all questions of what it means to be a good parent, as questions about what you need to do in order to create the most successful future adult. My son's learning to play the piano a bit. I'm trying very hard not to turn into a tyrant form of parent, insisting on so much practice that it takes all the joy out of the experience. And when instead, he's banging around on the piano and I'm banging around on the xylophone that we have in the house and just making - A band. Exactly. I don't think that there is any part of me in that moment that is thinking, How can we make this band really good so that we can start getting something- On a world tour. -to me come from touring and downloads. I mean, there is something about the letting go into those moments that is absolutely fantastic. But where I would most naturally go would be like, Okay, piano practice. This many minutes. Have you have you gone through these exercises?


With parenting and life in general, it always feels like you're learning just too late. But I am learning that there's value in the ridiculousness of making those noises in the present rather than where they might be leading.


So, Becca, the other day I met a colleague of mine for a drink after work.


We went to this weird pub in this hotel when there was no cell signal, no Wi-Fi network. I was just sitting there waiting for him. I just looked around at the people coming in and I looked at people coming in, and I looked at the menu a few times and I realized this is so rare. I finally couldn't do anything else. I didn't feel like I should be doing something else because there was nothing else I could really do.


Oh, interesting. I feel like if I was in your shoes, I would still feel like I should be doing something else.


I probably did feel that way, in truth. But that sensation that it's worse to do nothing than to delete emails on your phone. Right. But it wasn't always like this. I wrote a piece earlier this year about this. What did people do before smartphones? I don't mean for work or for entertainment, but what did they do during those off times when they were waiting for the dentist or whatever? And it was actually, it was terrible. We were super bored. I remember being a kid and you'd look through the highlights magazine 100 times before the doctor finally called you or reading anything you could find, signs on the wall, staring at clocks. In the past, when you had the magazine or whatever, you would burn through it. It would be expended. There was only so many pages, and once you'd read them or skimmed them, you were done. Your phone, your Instagram, whatever it is, there's always something new. Maybe it's not interesting to you, but new. That feels like a difference. That discomfort associated with having nothing new to see in the moment, that's gone away. Now there's always something new. I think that makes it easier for us to think, Well, I should be doing something new at every moment.


Right. And that pressure to do something new at every moment. I've been at so many dinners and we just sit down, it's a group of people. And if there's even a brief lull in conversation, someone says, What are we doing next? Where are we going after this? But we just got there. We just got there. We're at the place. We're at the dinner.


You know, Becka, I wonder if it's hard to tolerate wasting time because we're always looking forward like that. But, I mean, we didn't use to know that the bus was coming in four minutes because you could look at your phone and see it. I mean, it would come eventually, presumably, and you'd be just forced to deal with the fact that the bus isn't there for you. You're just one person in the world and you just have to wait.


Patience, patience. We're always being tested. Like right now, we'll be back right after a quick break. Hey, I'm Becker Rasheed, producer and co-host of the Atlantic's How-to podcast. I like to think of my work as a way to make self-reflection and introspection part of our daily lives. If you enjoy Atlantic podcasts and exploring ideas, please give an Atlantic subscription to someone you love. Your support can help us produce shows like How-to for years to come. For less than two dollars a week, your lucky someone will get a year of unlimited access to The Atlantic, including everything that's worth talking about, from deeply reported feature stories about democracy, justice, and mental health, to surprising insights about noses, animal behavior, and reality television. The Atlantic truly makes a fantastic gift. Plus, select new subscriptions come with a few cool bonuses like the new Atlantic tote bag. Let's keep the conversation going. Show your friends and family some sincerely thoughtful gift giving with the subscription. Go to theatlandic. Com/podgift.


The art historian, Jennifer Roberts points out that patience these days, is actually a really important form of control. It used to be that patience was something that people rather condescendingly had recommended to people who didn't have power, right? So in the days when women were much more likely to be obliged to remain at home doing domestic things while men were out working in the world, patience was a virtue because it's the thing that keeps people from complaining about their situation. But as society has sped up, patience changes its role. Now the default is that we're all moving incredibly fast, and it becomes a form of agency to be able to sit with a problem, sit with an experience, not need to bring things to the next stage or figure out where they're headed.


As a little kid, and even now sometimes, just feeling like everything I wanted to do in life needed to be done today. The concept of more time tomorrow was never my default. I remember my parents would always say, Why are you rushing everything? You're so young, you have so much time. Is it helpful to teach kids that time is limited or unlimited? And which one leads to kids having a better relationship with time as they get older?


Yeah, there is a way of interpreting all this talk about time being limited and life being short, which is incredibly stress-inducing, right? It basically says like, There's no time. You've got to get moving now. You've got to fill your life with a million extraordinary activities every day because otherwise will you really have lived? I think, firstly, kids, in my experience, have a very natural affinity for being more present and less fixated on maximizing efficiency. But then the message, obviously in an age-appropriate way, but the message here is, yeah, time is finite, but that's not a reason to start hurrying and fit the absolute maximum into a single day or a single lifetime. It's a reason to cherish the time that you get and to really show up for it and to enjoy it. I definitely had went through a significant period of early adulthood where I was deep in the time maximization efficiency mindset, and maybe one has to go through that to come out the other end with some insight.


Oliver, for families or people who do have serious time constraints, they don't always have the luxury to choose when to spend time with their children or when they need to be at work. Is there anything that can help make these choice restrictions a little less painful?


I think a lot of this is easier for me to say than it will be for some, and it's much worse for somebody if the decision they have to make is between keeping food on the table and ever spending quality time with their kids, for example. They're just in a worse position. They're in a worse position than me. They're in the identical position to me, only in the sense that in every hour they can do one thing with any moment realistically, and all the other ones they have to let go. It doesn't mean that the choices, the options that you have open to you are good ones. That depends on your situation in life and society. Absolutely. But it does mean that you can let go to a significant extent of being haunted by indecision or by guilt or by the sense that you ought to have been doing something else with it, or that you somehow ought to be doing more than you can do. Nobody should ever feel that they ought to do more than they can do.


I feel that way more often than not. But how do I begin to step outside this productivity mindset with my time?


You can decide to adopt a certain hobby or change how you apportion your time so as to spend more time nurturing a particular relationship or something, you're not committing to it for the whole of the rest of your days. You just have to take a bit of your time now or very soon to do something that matters to you. Even if it's only 10 minutes, even if you are not confident that you're going to be able to do it every day for the next month or anything like that, but to just do some of it. I think, actually, this is a place where the focus on habit-building can be quite counterproductive, because if you tell yourself you're going to start meditating every day forever, that's quite a burden and it's quite tempting to put it off for a few more weeks until your schedule clears up. If you tell yourself you're going to do it for 10 minutes today and that's it, then that is the point at which things start changing interestingly in one's life, I think. I think we all experience sometimes that sense of simply being in or simply being the flow of time rather than having this clock or calendar or whatever you visualize it, hounding you or that you're constantly fighting.


It's just for itself. Well, that's obviously very close to a pretty deep, I don't know, spiritual, Buddhist sounding, Daoist sounding idea about how actually only the present is real and that you have to find value in it if you're going to find value anywhere. There's a real argument that wasting time in the way we define that these days is something that is extremely important for us to learn to do.


Oliver, thank you so much again for your time. I've learned so much.


It's been a pleasure.


So Beckhoff, I think what Oliver is saying isn't that we should try to capture the literal present moment. That's impossible. Now always vanishes. It's gone. It's gone. It's gone. But it's like a slightly bigger now, like a little trunk of the moment that you can be in and that you can feel happening.


I hear what Oliver is telling us being something more like when I'm off the clock and I'm at home, I don't need to be rearranging my pantry immediately as my grandma would love to have me do.


I need to.


Do that too. I'm just so conditioned to be productive and feel like when I have a minute of downtime, if I'm not working towards one of those goals, that it is being wasted.


Becka, our show is called How to Keep Time. Keeping time, I was thinking about that phrase. You know how you use it in music? You keep time in music? Like with.


A metronome? Yeah.


Yeah. The rhythmic sense of keeping time, like tapping your foot. You can't capture the present, but you can feel it moving from present to present to present.


I guess that's the goal, right? I mean, it's something I'm definitely bad at because I'm always thinking about maximizing my 4,000 weeks if I even got that much time. I think for me, I just need to start thinking of my time as my own, not something that needs to be maximized or proven to other people as something that I'm using properly. What does that even mean?


Right. Because you're just using it properly or not. Right. You might not be productive all the time. You might feel like you're wasting time, but the time that you spend is still yours. It's still yours. Even if you're not making something of it. I mean, maybe we need to make that absence of productive satisfaction okay.


That's all for this episode of How to Keep Time. This episode was hosted by Ian Bogost and me, Becker Rasheed. I also produced the show. Our editors are Claudia Bade and Jocelyn Frank. Fact-check by Anna Alvarado. Our engineer is Rob Smerseak. Rob also composed some of our music. The executive producer of audio is Claudia Bade. The managing editor of audio is Andrea Valdez.


Hey, Becka. They're finally making a movie called Clocks.




It's about time.


Oh, God. Yeah. Stay with us for next week's episode, where we explore why we pressure ourselves to look busy, even when we're not.


That's on our next episode of How to Keep Time.