Text: Jouni Lesonen
Translation: Sirkka-Liisa Leinonen
Efforts to save time have a long history. I personally remember some ways to save time in the 1960s.
When we were binding sheaves at harvest time in August, my parents told us how time-consuming harvesting was in the old times when people still used hand sickles. "Now that we have scythes, cutting the rye is so much quicker – we save time."
A couple of weeks later the dry sheaves were passed through a thresher. The engine made a nice howling noise, the dry grains smelled good, and the sacks of grain turned nice and plump. A few years later the howling of threshers was no longer heard. Harvesting was done by means of combining. To a little boy, the combine harvesters seemed monsters, but it was interesting to watch them crawl along the field. They devoured the grain-bearing stalks quickly. Time was saved again.
We had a small barn and a few cows that were milked by hand every morning and evening. Later on barns became bigger and there were more cows. Milking machines arrived first, milking robots then. In the time that was needed to milk a few cows by hand, tens of heads of cattle can be milked now. More time is saved again.
We lived on a farm, but we heard that town homes had electricity, running water and even indoor toilets. That surely made us wonder. I also heard that some homes had machines that washed dirty clothes all by themselves. When the process was done, the machine stopped and a light on it indicated that the clothes had been washed. I understood right away that this was a lie – how could a machine know when the clothes were clean? We had it much better. Our mother boiled water in a wood-burning cauldron, rubbed the clothes on a washboard, and went down to the river to rinse them. In the winter we had to make a hole in the ice to rinse the laundry. After that, the clothes were certainly clean.
The 1960s lumberjack were not bothered by noisy chain saws. They fell the trees with hand saws and used an axe to cut off the branches. Many trees were felled, cut and de-branched in a day. The timber was hauled off from the forest on horse-drawn sleighs, each of which took a load of several big logs. The first chain saws appeared during that same decade. The work could then be done more quickly. Again, time was saved. Nowadays, one man in a machine does more in a day than several men did earlier. Many men have their time saved for other purposes.
We also had festive occasions in the old times. Preparations were hard work and took a lot of time. I remember how my mother whisked cake batter with a home-made wooden whisk. The whisks were made in the spring, when it was easy to debark wood. She sometimes let me try whisking the batter. I got tired soon, and my wrist began to ache. Mother did it so easily. I wonder how she had learnt to do it? The batter ended up soft and fluffy. The cake was baked in a wood-burning brick oven. It tasted good. How did mother know when the oven was suitably hot for the cake and did not burn it? And what would have been the suitable baking time? Years later we began to use electric mixers. I have used one of those. My wrist did not ache any more. And what is more: that device saves time.
When I was a child, we always spring-cleaned our home. We used handheld root brushes to rub the floors clean. After the big cleaning, the floors were often painted. There was no electricity and no vacuum cleaner. Everything was done by hand. It was hard work that took a long time. When we later moved to town, we got a vacuum cleaner. Cleaning was much easier, and time was saved.
Now that I drive along nice paved roads, I sometimes remember the old times. I have seen that not all people have the same amount of time available. For some, even a minute makes a difference. I do not have long to drive to town, but some drivers overtake me even on that short stretch of road. They drive so fast that I soon see their rear light far away ahead. But when we arrive in town, I often find the fast driver’s car standing in front of me at traffic lights or waiting at the next traffic lights. So they really saved no time, or only saved a minute or so.
Many products are advertised for their capacity to save time. I have myself bought many such products. But I must admit I am not good at saving time. I seem to lose immediately all the time that I thought I had saved. I do not have a ”time bank” where I could deposit the time that was saved. Saving time is pretty much the same as passing between the shelves in a store: I walk past many things, feeling that I save money by not buying them, but then I find something that seems good and useful, give in to the temptation, and put it in my cart. By the time I reach the checkout line, I have wasted all the money that I thought I had saved. The saved time and the saved money both went down the rathole.
But on the whole, I guess we have saved a huge amount of time, probably many years. And all those magnificent inventions have been useful. Even though we do not have any more time available now, machines have made all work cleaner and easier.
I started by reminiscing about time use in the 1960s. But people have been aware of the passage of time for millennia. Time has always been great mystery: ”I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.” (Eccl. 9:11).
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