BUSY BODIES by Lee Burns


Why Our Time-Obsessed Society Keeps Us Running in Place
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 An anecdotal, wry, clever--and deeply disturbing--critique of the way Americans use and abuse time. Burns (Architecture and Urban Planning/UCLA) ranges from the trivial and personal uses of time to the cosmic. Instead of leisure, Burns says, affluence has created a population too busy getting and spending, looking after number one, to cultivate the spirit and the mind--or even the social bonds that nurture them. Activities are chosen on the basis of the greatest reward for the least investment, and for instant gratification. Fast foods, wash-and-wear clothes, phones, and computers speed up life while such substitutes as cats for dogs, powerboats for sailboats, liposuction for dieting, and sex for courtship--and such ``synchronic'' phenomena as learning (from audiotapes, etc.) while driving--allow people to cram more activities into available time. These priorities, Burns contends, focus on self-serving, isolating forms of behavior that alter politics (leaving no time to vote, participate, volunteer), education, domestic life (leading to neglected children), and the nature of work itself: Assisted by technology, homebound workers are insulated from human interaction. As courtesies and public ceremonies decline, so do community, public concern, and social consciousness. And here Burns's message becomes ominous: Dependence on technology, speed, and efficiency, he says, increases the possibility for human error, producing such disasters as Chernobyl and Challenger, collisions between the powers of Mother Nature and Father Time. Burns shows, moreover, that similar values of time-efficiency govern medicine and terrorism--with the same fatal results. Burns develops his argument from a diverting meditation on the meaning of ``busybody'' to a cheerless indictment of those powerful and affluent Americans who make time more important than life itself. Essential reading. (Drawings--not seen.)

Pub Date: March 8th, 1993
ISBN: 0-393-03362-7
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1993


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