Society

Time Control! That's Why Young People Don't Answer The Phone

Young people no longer answer the phone if they haven't been warned that the call is coming. Employees working remotely insist on organizing their schedules as they see fit. Women want to put an end to men dictating the tempo of their relationship.

A woman protests against COVID restrictions in Schwerin, Germany, in April 2021.
A woman protests against COVID restrictions in Schwerin, Germany, in April 2021.
Jacques Attali

PARIS — Do we know how to see big transformations coming in the changes we see in the smallest of habits?

Do we realize, for example, that young people all around the world almost never listen to a live radio station anymore: They listen, at a time of their own choosing, to podcasts or songs; they no longer watch television — except for live sports —opting instead to watch only the videos, music videos, shows or movies available on streaming platforms. In each case, the people have more more control over their access to the various media.

In the same way, communicating with others is also much more manageable than it used to be. Many people, especially among the youth, no longer answer the phone if they have not been notified for the call ahead of time. They would rather read texts, whenever they want, even if only to make an appointment to talk to each other; hence the increasing trend of countless text messaging systems (texts, WhatsApp, Telegram) or video messaging (Skype, Zoom, Teams).

And it is more important that it seems: it probably means that a section of the youth has understood that time is the most sacred resource and that one of the greatest struggles of our time is to choose those with whom we want to share it; and when we want to share it. It foreshadows a society in which we will no longer let ourselves be invaded by others, in which we will keep control of our time as much as possible. We will resist the acceleration of time and information, and will choose at what pace we want to live, where we will no longer wait for the other with impatience. And vice versa: it will be a society in which we will no longer invade the time of others.

And isn't this one of the most beautiful definitions of love: to love someone is to happily let oneself be invaded by him, or her.

But there are still many with whom we don't have the power to refuse to answer to: those who have hierarchical power over us, the only ones whose calls we must answer. We could even say that the very definition of a boss is the privilege to invade others' time: economic leaders, administrative leaders, political leaders, police leaders, but other types of leaders, whose calls we have recently learned to listen to.

The desire to control one's own time is about to grow even stronger.

The challenge today is to cut free from those obligations, to reduce the number of leaders to whom we must obey. At work, more and more people are rejecting the alienation based on the seizing of one's time and the right of a boss to set schedules and force accountability at any moment. Working remotely favors this liberation of time, by making it easier not to answer to one's boss right away. Moreover, a growing number of young people refuse, when they can, to even join a company; they prefer to work on their own and take the risk of failure rather than having to submit their time to the passing fancies of a hierarchy.

In the same way as in love, or what seems to be love, many more people refuse to let others control their time; it has even become one of the major tenets of the new feminist movement to refuse letting men control women's time as much as their bodies.

And this is not over yet. The desire to control one's own time is about to grow even stronger, and across new aspects of our lives. Will it always be liberating? Are we really creating a society of individuals who are free because they are masters of their time? Or, on the contrary, a society of independent juxtaposed egoists, undisciplined loners?

Or even more than that: Can we even imagine "being a society" if we do not accept to give others access to a part of our own time? What do we lose if we refuse what constitutes the essential of life, that is to say, a simple conversation?

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