Time is not money

‘Remember that time is money’, wrote Benjamin Franklin in his short essay Advice to a Young Tradesman published in 1748. His words have been used time and time again as a warning against wasting time.

The problem with time is its elusiveness. If time is intangible, then likening it to money makes its loss as palpable a risk as money thrown down the drain. And its scarcity resembles currency up to a point. It’s a compelling image that has stood the test of time.

But the metaphor breaks down as soon as we really focus on it. Unlike money, time cannot be traded. The value of money is a shared outcome, but time is a personal discharge, available to each of us separately. We might keep time together, but time runs off each of us differently, and we all run out of it at a different pace and a different place. Money may be lost and recovered, re-earned and re-printed/coined. Time can only be lost, forever irretrievable, utterly unsalvageable.

Our experience of time is one of the most human things, like the conception of numbers or the felt presence of an absent person. Time runs back and forth, dilates, contracts, and catches us unawares. It is also the locus of contradictions and one of the most contested philosophical concepts. Does it even exist?

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