Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Why utopias are impossible as long as time flows constantly

"Different constraints are decisive for different situations, but the most fundamental constraint is limited time. Economic and medical progress have greatly increased length of life, but not the physical flow of time itself, which always restricts everyone to 24 hours per day. 

So while goods and services have expanded enormously in rich countries, the total time available to consume has not. Thus wants remain unsatisfied in rich countries as well as in poor ones. For while the growing abundance of goods may reduce the value of additional goods, time becomes more valuable as goods become more abundant. The welfare of people cannot be improved in a utopia in which everyone's needs are fully satisfied, but the constant flow of time makes such a utopia impossible."--Nobel Lecture of economist Gary Becker, 1993

These days my training is, at best, a quick chumbawumba in the garage just before bed.   Unsatisfying, haphazard quicky.  And if the baby wakes, well, it's even less than that.  Just enough to make me a sweaty mess, never enough--or with enough regularity--to make me fit.

Most nights I'm not riding at all; instead, I watch the baby monitor and the Olympics in Sochi, eat a tub of Breyer's Natural Vanilla.

I used to think juggling graduate school, work and racing a bike was restrictive, but it's nowhere near as all-consuming as being a dad.  When I goofed off and missed a reading assignment, I was merely being a bad student.  Now, goofing off means being a bad father.
When I'm done with my rare chumbawumba, I usually can't sleep, and it's then that I think about whether trying to be fit enough to race a bike means I'm not as good a father as I would have been had I devoted that time to my son.

Why bother?

Back to economist Gary Becker and his observations about time:  how human innovation has thus far granted us more choices, not more time in which to choose more things.  If only Apple's forthcoming watch could be just that--a time app.  You pressed the round-cornered icon and you've got a 25th hour.

There's a theory out there, Hick's Law, that says having more choices is often bad, since more options means more time assessing each choice.  Making a choice between 100 items requires more time than making a choice between two items.  And that's a pain.

I don't have that problem, thankfully, since fatherhood has thus far been simple in its demands.  It simply requires time, in the same way that fitness on a bike requires, foremost, time on a bike.

It is not that difficult to make the choice not to ride, although it is a bummer to see my fitness depart.

The real challenge? Accepting that I'll be getting worse at bike racing, but still making time to train and minimize that loss.

That's a hard thing to do, but I suppose it's what aging athletes face, although gradually and over years, and not because of time constraints.

The Atlantic has a piece on how Olympians stay motivated.  Among their seven recommendations is "Think about your next big event."  That's not exactly motivating, since my next event is probably changing a particularly messy diaper blowout.  A bike race--an entire day away from fatherhood--really isn't an option.

Yes, you've heard it before.  The overbusy guy making excuses.  Maybe you've been there.

If you haven't been there, you might find yourself there, life either pushing you there, or your choices, or both.

I had hoped time would be more elastic, that it would somehow stretch to allow me a few hours a week on the bike--but it hasn't yet.

A bike ride offers that illusion, doesn't it?  Time seeming to stretch and allow you to breathe.  Even though it's time consuming, it somehow seems to create time.  I never feel like a ride is a waste of time.  (It may, in fact, actually be a waste of time, just as it may be selfish and shirking of fatherly responsibilities--it just doesn't feel that way.  Is a comparison to crack apropos?).

In that way, a bike ride is not too different from holding my son when he cries, or--more often--when he passes gas and grins.  Time stretches out and the ever-increasing apps and gadgets and forms and bills and grocery lists fade.  Time is surely passing, but at least I know my way through it.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I am in the same new father situation torn on fitness and feel guilty that I don't regret the choice to not ride. "I should have a better drive than this!" I think to myself; not allowing myself to accept that I'm actually making the right choice even if it is just to rest and recover from a day, or hour, of parenting. It is freeing to hear the same story (Olympics ice cream and all) from another.

Kevin Cross said...

Glad to hear it, Anon. See you out there...eventually.

dj cyclone said...

Tom Waits for no one Pappy. Good to see you back up!