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Wealthy time

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Like Kottke, I can’t entirely tell if this W magazine piece on time-conserving tactics for “squillionaires” is a joke, but I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter; it’s darkly funny regardless. The piece starts from the premise that free time is more precious than money (the attention economy and all that) and then presents some ways for the rich to be conspicuously efficient. Here are two examples:


Employees have emotions and think everyone else wants to hear about them. No, no, no. Take a cue from the Victorian grandees, who kept their minions below stairs and under the thumb of a highly paid head butler. Hire an in-house shrink to listen to your staffers’ complaints and an aide to sort out their schedules….
Don’t Divorce. When will people learn? A divorce is the surest way to waste time, emotion and money. Instead of trading in your spouse for a new model, just stay married and have affairs. Jimmy Goldsmith had it right when, during his third marriage, to Annabel Birley, he said that marrying a mistress just creates a vacancy.


This cuts to the heart of all aspirational-oriented service journalism. The sort of folks attracted to wealth porn of the sort that this magazine serves up ultimately want to fantasize about not having to give a shit about anyone else, about having money purchase the right to be indifferent. This is merely an extension of the ideology behind all conveniences, which are usually defined in terms of the degree to which they eliminate the need to deal with other people or accommodate others’ needs. You don’t free up time to spend it with others; you free it up from other people’s claims. At the the level of wealth being dealt with here, other people are only the sum of their claims on you; true reciprocity is impossible when you are megawealthy.


The ideological principle behind consumerism is that needs are satisfied instrumentally through goods and not through participation in some sort of mutual social process. And wealth, in a consumer society, is predominantly a way of forcing objectification onto others, making them tools at your disposal, with goods as a mere proxy for this highest of all accomplishments. (From this perspective, what’s appealing about labor-saving devices is the idea of eliminating the need for having to deal with the person who once did this work for you. Sometimes that person is yourself, suggesting that the ultimate goal of convenience may be complete self-alienation.) As the W article notes ruefully, “Anyone with household help knows that, unfortunately, staff are people too.” Wealth, if it’s any good, eradicates that nuisance.

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