Please, don't waste my time! If you do, don't expect me to hang out with you for very long. And don't expect me to spend time with you in the future.
I confess, I discriminate against certain people. I don’t hate these people; most are quite decent and likeable. Though I do avoid them as much as possible. And when I meet these people, I’m not mean to them. But I do plan my exit as soon as I can (without appearing to be a complete jerk).
No, I’m not a racist, sexist, or ageist. Rather, I’m a ‘timeist.’ What, you may wonder, is a timeist? Okay, I made the term up, but it has real meaning to me. A timeist is someone who discriminates against others who waste their time. And I really hate it when people waste my time!
As I have moved well into middle age, I hoard my time like some misers hoard their money and animals hoard their food. Time has become truly precious to me and any second not spent with people or activities I care about feels like time stolen from me with no chance of return.
Many might argue that money is our most valuable resource because it enables us to survive. I would suggest otherwise because most of us can almost always make more money. But time is an entirely non-renewable resource; once time passes, it is gone forever. No matter how much we wish, we simply can’t get more time.
Time also doesn’t discriminate. Whether you are rich or poor, the clock is ticking and more time can’t be bought. However, I admit that affluence may improve how that time is spent or how long one’s time on Earth is (think life expectancies and medical care).
I’m sure this relationship I have with time is a result of my being on the backside of my life with fewer days ahead of me than behind. Like most people, when I was young, I thought I was immortal (not to mention invulnerable). So, I wasted my time with people who didn’t have any real value to me and engaged in activities that didn’t do much for my life in the grand scheme of things.
Admittedly, this wasted time was due partly to the fact that, when you’re young, you don’t necessarily know what you value or what will bring benefit to you long term. But early in your life, much like having a lot of money in the bank, it doesn’t seem to matter because you, at that point, have plenty of time to spend.
Yet, once you reach a certain age and look back on your life, you ponder (and perhaps regret) the immense opportunity costs of your past relationships and things you did. But, as we so painfully learn, not only is time nonrenewable, it is also not reversible. Such, as they say, is life.
I realize that being a timeist doesn’t make me the most popular guy in the room. Timeism can cause me real impatience. For example, if I’m in a meeting going nowhere (or at least in a direction that doesn’t interest me), I can abruptly intervene and attempt to get the meeting back on track. Or, if I meet someone who I don’t find interesting or worthy of my time, I can, rather suddenly, end the conversation and move on.
Don’t get me wrong, I do everything I can to not come across as some sort of snob, but I admit that I might be perceived as a bit curt and, okay, snobbish. But I’m willing to accept the blowback because, well, time is a fleeting and I have better things to do with my time.
I also recognize that, in making judgments about others’ time-worthiness, I might judge unwisely and miss out on an experience that might literally change my life. For example, that really boring guy I just ran away from at a cocktail party might want to hire me or triggers an idea that I want to write about or introduces me to someone who is worth spending time with. Of course, I would never know what I had missed out on, so at least I wouldn’t kick myself for the lost opportunity.
But, in every experience or encounter, we implicitly or explicitly conduct a risk/reward analysis of time-worthiness and then act accordingly. Perhaps it’s just me, but I would rather cut my losses too early and take the chance of a missed opportunity than stay too long and burn through even more time that I will no longer have.
I accept that every moment can’t be lived fully and every second can’t be savored; that’s just not realistic and would probably be exhausting. We waste time waiting in line at the grocery store. We sit in traffic. And, yes, we sometimes endure people and activities that don’t interest us because it is the polite or compassionate thing to do (or your spouse will be really mad at you if you don’t). As with most things in life, time isn’t an either-or proposition, but rather a matter of degree. If I can say that I have spent most of time wisely, I figure I’m winning this game called life.
Given that my time is no more special than yours, I would recommend that you too join the ranks of timeist. Though it’s not something to parade around about, I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed about either.
So here’s what I recommend to you if you choose to release your inner timeist:
Cherish and protect your time as it was the last food on Earth (though, like food, share it with those dearest to you).
Know your values and priorities and always consider your time in their light.
Make deliberate choices how you spend and use your time.
And, yes, discriminate against people and activities who waste your time.
In the end, I want to look back on my life and have few regrets about how I spent my time on this planet. And, so far, it has been time well spent.
Everybody in college hates papers. Students hate writing them so much that they buy, borrow, or steal them instead. Plagiarism is now so commonplace that if we flunked every kid who did it, we’d have a worse attrition rate than a MOOC. And on those rare occasions undergrads do deign to compose their own essays, said exegetic masterpieces usually take them all of half an hour at 4 a.m. to write, and consist accordingly of “arguments” that are at best tangentially related to the coursework, font-manipulated to meet the minimum required page-count. Oh, “attitudes about cultures have changed over time”? I’m so glad you let me know.
Nobody hates writing papers as much as collegeinstructorshategradingpapers (and no, having a robot do it is not the answer). Students of the world: You think it wastes 45 minutes of your sexting time to pluck out three quotes from The Sun Also Rises, summarize the same four plot points 50 times until you hit Page 5, and then crap out a two-sentence conclusion? It wastes 15 hours of my time to mark up my students’ flaccid theses and non sequitur textual “evidence,” not to mention abuse of the comma that should be punishable by some sort of law—all so that you can take a cursory glance at the grade and then chuck the paper forever.
What’s more, if your average college-goer does manage to read through her professor’s comments, she will likely view them as a grievous insult to her entire person, abject proof of how this cruel, unfeeling instructor hates her. That sliver of the student population that actually reads comments and wants to discuss them? They’re kids whose papers are good to begin with, and often obsessed with their GPAs. I guarantee you that every professor you know has given an A to a B paper just to keep a grade-grubber off her junk. (Not talking to you, current students! You’re all magnificent, and going to be president someday. Please do not email me.)
Oh, “attitudes about cultures have changed over time”? I’m so glad you let me know.
When I was growing up, my mother—who, like me, was a “contingent” professor—would sequester herself for days to grade, emerging Medusa-haired and demanding of sympathy. But the older I got, the more that sympathy dissipated: “If you hate grading papers so much,” I’d say, “there’s an easy solution for that.” My mother, not to be trifled with when righteously indignant (that favored state of the professoriate), would snap: “It’s an English class. I can’t not assign papers.”
Mom, friends, educators, students: We don’t have to assign papers, and we should stop. We need to admit that the required-course college essay is a failure. The baccalaureate is the new high-school diploma: abjectly necessary for any decent job in the cosmos. As such, students (and their parents) view college as professional training, an unpleasant necessity en route to that all-important “piece of paper.” Today’s vocationally minded students view World Lit 101 as forced labor, an utterwasteof their time that deserves neither engagement nor effort. So you know what else is a waste of time? Grading these students’ effing papers. It’s time to declare unconditional defeat.
Most students enter college barely able to string three sentences together—and they leave it that way, too. With protracted effort and a rhapsodically engaged instructor, some may learn to craft a clunky but competent essay somewhere along the way. But who cares? My fellowhumanistsinsist valiantly that (among other more elevated reasons) writing humanities papers leads to the crafting of sharp argumentative skills, and thus a lifetime of success in a number of fields in which we have no relevant experience. But my friends who actually work in such fields assure me that most of their colleagues are borderline-illiterate. After all, Mark Zuckerberg’s pre-Facebook Friendster profile bragged “i don’t read” (sic),and look at him.
Of course it would be better for humanity if college in the United States actually required a semblance of adult writing competency. But I have tried everything. I held a workshop dedicated to avoiding vague introductions (“The idea and concept of the duality of sin and righteousness has been at the forefront of our understanding of important concepts since the beginning of time.”) The result was papers that started with two incoherent sentences that had nothing to do with each other. I tried removing the introduction and conclusion altogether, and asking for a three-paragraph miniessay with a specific argument—what I got read like One Direction fan fiction.
I’ve graded drafts and assigned rewrites, and that helps the good students get better, but the bad students, the ones I’m trying to help, just fail to turn in any drafts at all. Meanwhile, I come up for air and realize that with all this extra grading, I’m making 75 cents an hour.
I’m not calling for the end of all papers—just the end of papers in required courses. Some students actually like writing, and let those blessed young souls be English majors, and expound on George Eliot and Virginia Woolf to their hearts’ content, and grow up to become writers, huzzah. But for the common good, leave everyone else out of it.
Instead of essays, required humanities courses (which I support, for all the reasons William Cronon, Martha Nussbaum, and Paulo Freire give) should return to old-school, hardcore exams, written and oral. You cannot bullshit a line-ID. Nor can you get away with only having read one page of the book when your professor is staring you down with a serious question. And best of all, oral exams barely need grading: If you don’t know what you’re talking about, it is immediately and readily manifest (not to mention, it’s profoundly schadenfroh when a student has to look me in the face and admit he’s done no work).
A Slate Plus Special Feature:
Students hate writing papers, and professors hate grading them. Should we stop assigning them? Listen to the debate on Slate Plus.
Plus, replacing papers with rigorous, old-school, St. John’s-style tribulations also addresses an issue humanities-haters love to belabor: Paper-grading is so subjective, and paper-writing so easy to fake, that this gives the humanities their unfortunate reputation as imprecise, feelings-centered disciplines where there are “no right answers.” So let’s start requiring some right answers.
Sure, this quashes the shallow pretense of expecting undergraduates to engage in thoughtful analysis, but they have already proven that they will go to any lengths to avoid doing this. Call me a defeatist, but honestly I’d be happy if a plurality of American college students could discern even the skeletal plot of anything they were assigned. With more exams and no papers, they’ll at least have a shot at retaining, just for a short while, the basic facts of some of the greatest stories ever recorded. In that short while, they may even develop the tiniest inkling of what Martha Nussbaum calls “sympathetic imagination”—the cultivation of our own humanity, and something that unfolds when we’re touched by stories of people who are very much unlike us. And that, frankly, is more than any essay will ever do for them.