Thursday, September 13, 2007

Life in the Slow Lane

Greetings, road warriors.
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
-- William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

This post is about commuting; specifically why I refuse to do long commutes. I don't really understand why people put up with long commuting. Some of my coworkers get up at 4 AM to get to work on time (8 AM), twice a day wasting in traffic more time than it takes to travel by train from Rome to Naples. Where do I start with the problems here? That kind of squandering of human life is so egregious that I don't even know where to start to try to attack it: res ipsa loquitor! If that res still isn't very loquacious, read on!

In an earlier post, I quantified how much you pay labor-saving machines for each hour of chores they save you; here I'm going to figure out how much you're paying yourself to live in a cheap neighborhood and commute to a good job.

Tinned Nation

On average last year, Americans spent 50 minutes per work day commuting to and from their jobs; mostly in a sitting position within oversized metallic cans on wheels. However, like the aforementioned coworkers, over 3.4 million Americans spent more than three hours per day commuting to work. If these extreme commuters value their time at $25/hour and work 20 days per month, they're spending $1500 of their time every month for the privilege of living where it's cheap. Unless housing is drastically more expensive where they work, it's just not worth their time.

Leisure sucker

Commuting is more than just a monetary problem, however: the less free time you have the more precious it becomes. If you're awake 16 hours a day, work 8 hours and spend 2 hours keeping the household together that leaves just 6 hours of discretionary free time per day. If three hours is sucked up in commuting, you have half the time to pursue self-development.

Greeks to the Rescue?

Aristotle thought the best division of waking hours was to spend 6 hours working, 6 hours resting and 6 hours pursuing some leisured activity: being creative and exercising parts of your body and intellect for the shear joy of it. The 8-hour work day already overbalances this ancient ideal; why tip it further into job-is-everything territory?

Personally I'm dismayed with the fact that the remainder of peoples' time usually has to go towards wakeful resting (like watching the tube), and not the active creation of interesting life, tradition and culture. I want life to be more participatory: we should be having a good time with the freeboard that going to work gives, if the work itself isn't fun (a harsh reality I'm trying to avoid).

Staying Un-Canned

What are some ways to keep our commuting hours down? How about the following for a start;
leave comments if you have more ideas.

  • Arrange to spend one day a week telecommuting (if possible)
  • Use a home office
  • Rent an apartment close to your job (and price out the time cost of your commute if you live far from your job - you might consider moving then)
  • Live/work arrangements are also great
I hope I'm going to be able to dodge nasty commutes. We'll have to see if that's going to be possible.

Take care, and stay out those cars as much as possible!



Dan said...

I agree with you totally, it just totally mystifies me that people would waste even one hour commuting to and fro, let alone 2, 3 or 4 each way. It's a total waste of people and talent-- no time for family, too exhausted when they even arrive at work, it's sad.

In fact if anything, seems like the traffic and commute problem is one of the biggest contributors to lower quality of life among Americans.

I've noticed increasingly that a number of my old colleagues, certainly the professional and very highly educated class at least, has been emigrating. 3 of my old colleagues have emigrated to Germany, 2 to France, 2 to Italy and one each to Greece, the Netherlands and Belgium. (Nobody goes to Britain or Australia, apparently they're as bad as the USA for professionals.) One of the 2 in Italy had Italian-American ancestry and one of those in Germany was German-American (the other two weren't, though they had some kind of northern Polish, Dutch, English "Germanic" ancestry I guess). But they went there because the quality of life is much better.

My old colleagues who moved to Germany are computer programmers and engineers-- rather than working 90-hour weeks in the USA in ridiculously high-stress jobs where they weren't appreciated and their jobs were being outsourced, commuting hours each way, now they work 40-50 hour weeks in German cities like Frankfurt or Berlin, actually earn a *better* salary (partly b/c it's in Euros, much better than dollars), and are sending their kids to German public schools which are high-quality and don't bankrupt them to get a good education.

The only hassle they said, was learning German and using it daily, and even that wasn't so tough to do (German is similar to English, and they picked it up in about a year). In general, the quality of life for them is much better.

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