More Sleep. More Leisure Time, Valid Disbelief

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Do Americans really have more leisure time and sleep more than at almost any point in the past ten years? Many say, "No." Many writers respond with the notion that Americans prefer to think that way in spite of reality. There are survey
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  More Sleep, More Leisure Time, Valid Disbelief by Joshua D. Nathan "It ’ s not an accurate report … on that issue,  most everyone I know agrees, ”  says Kathy Stevens, a nurse for the ill and elderly. "Everyone says the same thing … the study is not taking into account all of the jobs and diversions we now have that we didn ’ t have just a few years ago. ”  This opinion contradicts Edward (Ted) Bauer ’ s recent piece on how busy we think we are versus how busy we might be. But the only way to find out for sure is to do what I ask of my students in Critical Thinking courses: Question everything and find out for yourself. Scores of journalists echoed Bauer, writing about the very same thing after the results of the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) were announced earlier this summer. It indicates Americans have more leisure time and sleep longer, at an average of 8.76 hours a night, than at almost any point in the past ten years. Articles in USA Today   and other prominent newspapers work to contextualize ATUS results for the average person. But our watchdog, otherwise known as the Fourth Estate, may be barking up the wrong tree this time without a credible explanation for what has become a collective disconnect. The scoop on ATUS is easy enough to comprehend, as are the reports and articles. They may look good and sound good, but they are not as sound as one would hope, which is why the results might feel wrong. To understand why, one must first examine the 117-page ATUS User ’ s Guide and then conduct due diligence by asking others what they believe. “ I get about eight hours of sleep, ”  says one of my students. “ It ’ s just averaged out because I go without sleep for a few days and then re-coup the loss later. By the end of the week, it probably would average to eight hours a night … if it was actually during  each   night, ”  he notes with a smile. No wonder Americans can ’ t help but act quizzical when faced with the findings. No wonder there is a sense of incredulity in the air that is not something for which ATUS is designed to measure. Americans may love   to say, “ I have no  time, ”  as Bauer astutely observes. Some  of it is true for some  people. But in that notion lay the first fallacy mainstream media ’ s harried business model falls prey to as well; a Hasty Generalization. Turning directly toward ATUS, it fails to account for the ways in which we communicate and the number of jobs Americans have today, mostly because it has no way in which to measure either. There is more to the disparity, which is every bit as real as many Americans like Stevens claim. The methodology used in ATUS unsuccessfully tries to account for what's known as the Hawthorne Effect, which essentially states that people who know they're part of a study act or answer differently. To mitigate this problem, the study built in two questions for its interviewers: 1. Should the interview count?; 2. Why or why not? Being mostly multiple-choice, answers are limited in scope and subject to the perceptions of the interviewers, who are also   subject to the Hawthorne Effect. In these two ways, the study creates a difference between what we report and what we really do.   Secondly, interview-based, qualitative studies like ATUS are skewed, especially when relying on questions and answers in a telephone survey. Answers may be recorded incorrectly simply due to inflection or tone, causing misinterpretation in a realm where connotation drives results. Other limiting factors include even being able to be reached by phone because interviewees are contacted via landline. While ATUS tries to reach those relying exclusively on cellphones, it ’ s a laborious process involving snail mail, which almost contradicts potential corrective efforts. If you ’ ve joined the digital age, you check your in-bin more than your mailbox. Therein lay a problem in the survey ’ s reach. Finally, even specific questions about how we spend our time are open to interpretation. What we do as a source of income is a central focus of ATUS. However, the survey never does, or could, account for all of the jobs we do in what it defines, and calculates, to be, "leisure time." While ATUS indicates we get more sleep, it doesn ’ t measure how well   we slept, which is the only relevant question because it has a well-documented rollover effect affecting everything else we do and can engender the perception that time is moving faster. How we perceive time is based on synaptic mechanisms in our brains, the growth and decay of which make us feel that time lasts longer the younger we are and shorter as we age. "It may be perception for some, but I know I have less free time now then I did just a few years ago," Stevens says .  "Technology ’ s become a time killer, not a time saver. ”  If, as ATUS indicates, America were truly a society with more free time, why would we power nap, speed read, or rush to rest? It doesn ’ t seem to be borne from logic or choice. Societies have always struggled with time because it's in demand and quite valuable. But Americans have taken that struggle to new heights, maybe the reason for the survey ’ s existence. After all, it only began ten years ago. However, if its results and surrounding discussion highlight anything, it ’ s a culture addicted to time itself. Like   any good drug, time has us hooked. Like anyone struggling with abuse, when we try to escape time's grips, we are met with only its loss and a hunger for more. Add a dash of technology and the enabler is in place for time spent wasted rather than relished. Forget ATUS for a moment and forget what you see in the media. The only people who can accurately measure how much free time exists are ourselves because we control it to a large degree  —  a point Bauer makes clear that newspaper articles do not. Perhaps the only way to truly have more time is to forget about studying how we spend it and simply spend it, without the technological compasses on which we constantly rather than consistently rely. Perhaps, like the hands of a wristwatch, we, too, need a revolution to sweep away the vicious addiction we have with time. Perhaps, just perhaps, in that measure lay true leisure and, with more efficient job prioritization, a greater sense of peace for time immemorial. You can read all about ATUS by going to www.bls.gov
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