Do any of these phrases sound familiar to you?
You’re wasting my time.
This fix will save you hours.
How do you spend your time these days?
That late train cost me an hour.
I’ve invested a lot of time in her.
You’re running out of time. Is that worth your while? Do you have much time left?
He’s living on borrowed time.You don’t use your time profitably. I lost a lot of time last week.
As Lakoff & Johnson point out in their book Metaphors We Live By, we construe Time as Money. This is a buried metaphor, used for so long that we use it without thinking. It’s become a cognitive metaphor, that shapes how we live and act every single day.
In the capitalist system, it makes sense – we are paid by the hour, day, month or year, and we tend to charge by it too. Our time has been exchanged for money. But we extend this metaphor to every part of our lives – spending time with friends, asking if that film was worth seeing. Would we be more generous if we didn’t have this idea that our time can be spent, wasted, or lost?
One of the purest forms of this is the queue. When there’s a limited amount of resource available, like the number of open counters at the Post Office (never enough!), you line up and form an orderly queue. Many jokes have been made of the British love of queuing. Our basic sense of fairness means that everyone, rich or poor, has to take their place in the queue.
Sometimes, you can exchange money for queuing time though. You can pay to ‘queue jump’ at clubs or theme parks. Or you can pay for someone else to queue for you, like these people selling their iPhone 5 spots.
But woe-betide you if you attempt to skip our value system, offer neither time nor money, and queue-jump.