21 June 2015

No Time Available?

Who has time? But then if we do not ever take time, how can we ever have time?

This post by Tobold along with the subsequent discussion may very well be the worst that was ever published on his blog. Tobold makes several assumptions and statements that I strongly disagree with. A hat tip to Bhagpuss once again for the best comment and to Azuriel for arguing a solid case against Tobold in the comments and on his own blog. My reply will focus on the specific problems surrounding Tobold’s conception of time and how it is connected to choice. I will, therefore, exclude his nonchalant and almost completely inaccurate depiction of capitalism and communism, and to some extent his theories on fairness as well. The point of reference is a healthy human being on planet Earth. I’ll start with two relevant quotes (with my emphasis) because they highlight the assumption that I object to the most. The first one is from the original post and the second is one of Tobold’s own comments.

... there are now people who were favored by the flat payment model because they had more time to spend than others, and these people are now complaining about "Pay2Win", as if that was any worse than "Grind2Win".

There is absolutely no difference between somebody using his larger pool of available time to reach a personal win condition in a MMORPG and somebody using his larger pool of available money to reach a personal win condition.

In order to address the issue of time it is necessary to first define two central terms, namely experience and perception, including their corresponding verbs. For the purpose of this post experience is defined in its relation to physics or the physical world. It can be measured (objectively) using scientific methods. Perception, on the other hand, relates to a person’s mental state, i.e. what goes on in the mind of a human being and can therefore easily change based on individual circumstances. Temperature is a simple example: if it is 30° Celsius then everybody experiences the same objective physical sensation while at the same time each individual may possibly perceive the temperature subjectively, differently depending on their weather preferences.

The same distinction of experience and perception applies to time as well. As a physical unit, a unit of measurement, time is independent of both human experience and human perception. One can say that it exists a priori. In that sense time is not relative. As such the old saying “Time flies when you’re having fun” does not relate to the (physical) experience of time, but rather to how an individual human being perceives the time spend doing an activity. Time is the same for every living human being. That is a fact of existing on planet Earth and as such it’s true for everything on our world. We may perceive time differently but we all experience time in the same way.

People like Tobold who claim that they don’t have the time (to do something) are – probably subconsciously – employing both a stylistic and a mental device that helps make language more economical and (maybe) even more importantly allows them to negate personal responsibility by blaming external factors. The problem is choice. As Dàchéng accurately points out in the comments of another one of Tobold’s posts, the critical issue here is choice. While every single human being on this planet by definition has the exact same amount of time available, it is their choice how they spend this time. Barack Obama may choose to watch an episode of Modern Family with his wife and children when he’s not busy running the U.S.A., but that is his choice. He could also do something else entirely. Tobold and I choose to work (probably) over 40 hours per week, but that is our choice. Or as Sheldon Cooper says: “we have to take in nourishment, expel waste and breathe in enough oxygen to keep our cells from dying. Everything else is purely optional”.

The choices of any human being, the structure of his life can be modelled as a system of hierarchies. This is also true for the course of human interactions. If I ride my bike I cannot, simultaneously, drive in my car. If I visit my parents who live in one city, I cannot at the same time visit my in-laws who live in another city. That is a choice! Now, make no mistake here: every single time someone says: “I’d like to do this, I just don’t have time.” it’s not that they don’t have the time (available) because everybody has the exact same amount of time available, it’s rather that they choose to do something else based on their system of hierarchies. That is the simple truth; and an inconvenient truth at that. People do not like to hear that something or somebody else is more important to us than they are and the expression “don’t have the time” offers a loophole of sorts, a clean way out. This has become so ingrained in our everyday language use that most people don’t stop to reflect upon the meaning.

Note that I did not comment on the practical implications or consequences of the time versus money debate and its relation to MMOs because the outcome depends on personal preferences. To reiterate one more time: every single person on this planet has the exact same amount of time available, but not the exact same amount of money and I’d be cautious of any argument to the contrary since it might be heavily skewed, unless it’s coming from Bill Gates, of course. Nonetheless, this is what happens when someone on a crusade, in this case an engineer and a self-proclaimed scientist enters the realm of philosophy: he ignores the fundamentals and takes the second step before the first.


  1. This is a very interesting subject. I don't remember when and how exactly I came to the realisation you describe in this post myself, but it wasn't actually that long ago. Since then I try to be more honest myself whenever I catch myself thinking that I "don't have the time" to do something. It's actually kind of refreshing to not make excuses, e.g. it's not that I don't have time to go to the gym, I just don't like it very much and don't care enough about being fit at the current point in time to make it a priority. Simple as that! Sometimes you may also realise that even though you don't "want" to have time, some things are important enough that you should "make" time for them.

    Of course, when other people are concerned, "I don't have time" remains the more polite option by far. As you said, nobody likes to be told that you don't want to go out with them on Saturday because you'd rather spend time with your other friends.

    1. Thanks for the hat-tip. I find that when responding to Tobold it's best to make your point and then retire. For a self-professed logician he's remarkably fond of approaching almost everything from an avowedly subjective perspective - his own, of course - while presenting his argument almost as a description of some natural, physical law.

      I do put some of the lack of nuance down to his writing in a second (third?) language but mostly I think it's an intentional rhetorical device and one he's very skilled at employing. Over the course of an evening in the pub it would be relatively easy to dismantle many of his arguments using the very logic he prizes, as you do so adroitly in this post, but in his comments thread you'll just get selectively-referenced to death, so better not to engage.

      The whole "time" thing is a bugbear of mine. I frequently complain that there's not enough time for me to enjoy all the MMOs I want to enjoy, for example. Partly I do mean just what you say, that I have made choices that conflict with me doing so. It isn't only that, though; it's clearly also the case that there are literally not enough hours in the day for someone who finds most MMOs engaging and absorbing to play all of the ones he or she would like to play to the extent they deserve to be played in order to bring out their full flavor. MMOs are immensely time-consuming; playing just two or three concurrently could easily consume all of a person's waking hours (not something I'd recommend even if that person had the private income to support such behavior).

    2. Another one of your truly brilliant comments. Thank you very much :)

      Over the course of an evening in the pub it would be relatively easy to dismantle many of his arguments using the very logic he prizes, as you do so adroitly in this post, but in his comments thread you'll just get selectively-referenced to death, so better not to engage.

      This is exactly the reason why I don’t comment on his blog. I have the impression that he’s just not interested in an open discussion, but actually prefers his "echo chamber" – even if he’s claiming the opposite. It just becomes a shouting match with neither side being happy.

      I can certainly agree with the perceived nightmare of not having enough time, i.e. hours a day available to engage in whatever one desires, but that is hardly what people usually mean when they claim that they don’t have the time. Then again, maybe it’s a good thing that we need to prioritize so we can conserve bits and pieces of energy. I don’t think deceleration is necessarily a bad thing.

  2. Shintar, thanks for your comment. The "honesty movement" or "honesty experiment" has even made its way into the business world and I can personally state that it’s a rather refreshing experience. It does take some time getting used to, though.

  3. I don't imagine that Tobold seriously believes that it's fine to be "using his larger pool of available [earthly] money to reach a personal win condition" in a virtual world. I can't even imagine what satisfaction such a "win" could generate. I think he just throws out stuff like that to generate controversy.

    Agreed, Bhagpuss, that it isn't worth getting into a point-by-point argument with Tobold. He likes to make assumptions on your behalf (such as: if you aren't in favour of his political position, you must be in favour of communism; or beginning "If you tell me that I can't keep politics out .." in a riposte to somebody who told him no such thing). Tobold's funniest response in the article you linked, Maldwiz, was "Azuriel, you don't listen."

    1. Thank you very much for your excellent comment, Dàchéng. I was actually laughing out loud while reading. ... you just don’t listen : instant classic.

  4. ahh tobold - stopped reading his site eons ago now although I still come back for a rant occasionally, especially when he references me.
    Had an argument against him a few months ago with a similar point in one part. It's that for those spending money, going by the data it also means they're usually spending a lot of time too. This is why it feels more imbalanced to me.

    also, i tend to call him uncle leo - if you know seinfeld you'll get the joke haha

    1. Thanks for your comment, j3w3l. Of course I know Seinfeld, it’s only one of my favourite TV shows of all time, together with Frasier, Friends, Coupling (British version, ofc) and the early seasons of The Big Bang Theory. Tobold as Uncle Leo is certainly an interesting comparison ... "Hello!"