The first to perceive and analyze the value of time in society was Karl Marx. In the first volume of his book The Capital (1867), Marx was able to establish the dynamics of the economic system in order to elucidate and explain the sources of the production and accumulation of capital. To determine these sources, it is necessary to define the forms of value. In the exchange of commodities, two forms of value can be determined. On the one hand, use value and, on the other, exchange value. Use value is closely related to the utility or the satisfaction of a need that a given commodity fulfills. Exchange value, on the other hand, is intimately related to the possibility of exchange represented by a given commodity. For example, the utility of wheat is different from the value of a pair of pants or a cell phone. The trade that makes possible the dynamic movement of the economy is responsible for putting the flow of goods into circulation. The objective pursued by this flow is to obtain money. But money is an exchange mechanism that gives value to a commodity on the basis of its utility or the possibility of its exchange. It’s kind of like an adult game of “tradsy”. However, what or who determines the value of a commodity? In principle, one could say the social dynamics of the commercial system at play. But that answer is not enough. In commodity production, what is it that defines a commodity? Undoubtedly, the materials of which it is composed. But also the labor that produces it. In every commodity, it is necessary to employ a labor force. And the use of this labor force implies, in turn, the use of a certain amount of time for the exercise of a labor in the chain of production.
This means, among other things, that the only thing I have to access these material means is my labor power and, therefore, my time of production. The proper capitalist relation arises there where, in the absence of opportunities, I sell to a person (or company) my time represented through my labor power (capacities). In other words, my time and my labor power are the only qualities that allow me to be useful to the system. Outside of them there is no meaning, just as there are no material means of existence. There
have been many cases in which this mechanism has been a source of exploitation, segregation, discrimination, inequality, injustice and cruelty on the part of political regimes.
Critical Theory has tried to detect the subtle forces that permeate the ideological structures and forms of production of a society. From there it was possible to understand, for example, the phenomenon of the culture industry. What is the culture industry? The culture industry is a mechanism for the production of entertainment products whose objective is to occupy the spectator’s time in a massive way through consumption. Many examples can be mentioned: cinema, the publishing industry, paintings (Salvador Dalí is a clear example of this), music, cable television, etc.. Internet, in fact, is a very effective mechanism for the reproduction of the cultural industry in our days. What is interesting in the analysis of Critical Theory, however, is to unravel the functioning of certain capitalist institutions that no longer only find in the exploitation of time and labor power the source of surplus value, but understand that the final product of this chain of production must be destined to entertain or occupy the leisure time of all individuals within the system. A concept that allows us to understand this phenomenon is precisely the concept of alienation.
The concept of alienation refers to a very specific characteristic according to which the human being is deprived not only of the product he has produced, but also of the time he has spent in its production. To the extent that I have to sell my labor power, the time of production no longer belongs to me, in the same way that in the cultural industry leisure time becomes the time destined for consumption. This works massively. In Hegel, alienation consisted in the dehumanization or negation of the human being for the sake of his divine overcoming (absolute spirit). In Marx, however, alienation consists in the negation of the human being for the sake of production. But in terms of the Critique, alienation now consists in the negation of the human being for the sake of the divinization of a mass-produced cultural object. Commodity fetishism is defined by this projection in which my aspirations are reduced to the consumption of a commodity disguised as a promise within a civilizing idea. This is what happens with the advertising of certain brands and the prestige of acquiring one of their products. God is no longer the motive of my aspirations, nor capital the ultimate goal of my productions; now it is the object disguised as a promise that motivates my existence: a BMW car, a Rolex, a Cartier watch, an Adidas tennis shoe, or a flat screen TV, a Netflix, HBO, Disney Plus account –a deified object.
In short, time, an essential condition of possibility to give meaning to my world, has suddenly not only ceased to belong to me in the forms of production; it has also ceased to belong to me in the forms of leisure, as if a kind of alienation prevented me from thinking outside the instrumental logic that leads me more and more to entertainment and less and less to reflection. Thinking and discovering these subtle forces of alienation and alienation is, at the same time, the possibility of questioning and transforming the structures that determine the meaning of my existence.
 The reader is referred to Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of its Technical Reproducibility (1936).
The challenges of productive activity
The historical dynamics of production teach us to take some precautions when intervening in the development of certain practical mechanisms. Self-care must contemplate the possibilities of falling into the prejudices of an ideology based on alienation and alienation itself. However, it is necessary to assume the material conditions of existence in which we live and to propose, from there, alternative models of production that contemplate the possibility of optimizing time, of endowing it with meaning and of qualifying it in the process of production.
Despite terrible historical examples, today we know that no one can own anyone’s time. Those who sell their services do so voluntarily. It is true that, still in some cases, the forms of material necessity force labour to sell their time for absolutely precarious wages. However, the creation of alternatives that help to resist such centralized systems of power and economy is in vogue.
From this perspective, some interesting practical questions arise. For example, what kind of impact could a government or a state have on the organization of these alternative forms of production? By what criteria could it be assumed that someone is inefficient or wasting time or wasting someone else’s time? Is it possible to determine more efficient use of time? Moreover, would it be possible to audit production, service or service time?
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