Many of us find spare time is rare time and a University of Iowa leisure studies professor says our increasingly-busy society is working itself into a frenzy. Benjamin Hunnicutt says we’ve trivialized leisure time to the extent that between actual work, housework, homework and other ever-present chores, few of us have the time to enjoy ourselves by taking time to smell the flowers, let alone to plant them.

Hunnicutt says “There’s later retirement, people are working longer lives, working longer weeks, working longer days, as a consequence, everything else begins to be squished up, concentrated so much so that the weekends seem to be more of a pressure cooker than anything else when we’re running around doing all of our chores.” He calls the phenomenon “time famine” and says most Americans are starving for spare time, in part, because they’re too busy checking e-mail, voicemail and text messages.

Hunnicutt says “‘Time famine’ is time for nothing else except work. The long arm of the job follows us even into the evenings and weekends with fax machines and all of the technological gadgets that we carry around with us that attach us still to work when we’re not physically at the worksite.” Back in 1930, an economist predicted that by 1980, technological advances would require us to only work three hours a day — something that obviously didn’t come true.

Hunnicutt says a recent study found that since 1970, we’re working five weeks a year longer. Hunnicutt says “We think only of higher standards of living as more stuff to buy, more reputation, bigger houses, bigger names to our title at our jobs, those sorts of things we have put before the possibility of freedom outside of work.” Hunnicutt says working is our “modern religion” and we’ve abandoned “I think, therefore I am” in favor of “I’m busy, therefore I am.” He says there’s no cure for time famine, though he suggests thumbing through a book published some 160 years ago by Walt Whitman, who expounded on ideas of higher progress and labor saving devices.

Hunnicutt says “Read his ‘Leaves of Grass’ again, if you haven’t for a while, you should. This higher progress, he called ‘higher progress on the horizon.’ What he meant by that was a new freedom, freedom from necessity, to talk to your neighbors, to visit, to live your life fully outside, out of doors.” Then again, if you don’t have time to actually read Whitman, maybe you can find a summary on the Internet, or someone reading it aloud for you in pod-cast form.