Column: Dear Philip Zimbardo,

Dear Philip Zimbardo,

Each week in ‘What am I meant to do with my time?’, Christopher Hocking turns to an intellectual figure from the past to see if it can tell him how to live a digitally native life in 2013. Today, it’s renown Stanford psychologist Philip Zimbardo and his book, ‘The Time Paradox.’ 



While preparing breakfast (e.g. porridge, muesli) I find myself thinking about what I’m going to have for lunch (e.g. soup) and what that will leave for dinner that night (e.g. bolognese, the rest of the soup.) I become so future oriented that I barely taste the meal at hand because I’m living in the meal to follow. I’m thinking about the way the time between now and then will be broken up. Hours come in blocks and the blocks have to be filled and then they can be discarded and then finally I can sleep, eventually forever. I make jokes about how I’m dead, or dying, or how we’re all dying but the joke is sort of one of those ones that isn’t really funny or a joke.

I am on a retreat from Adelaide to Melbourne, like some middling Tom Waits song, for the Emerging Writer’s Festival. I’m here for four days of the festival, figuring that between events would be a good opportunity to really Knuckle Down, to really Get On With It. This is my time to write a masterpiece but oh boy, I’d better be quick because I only have four days and beyond that I only have who knows how many years.

Time suffocates me. There is an albatross around my neck with a clock’s face. I glance out at the Melbourne skyline – what am I doing? Where am I? I think about drinking a coffee or wine to help me.

The subtext to the whole festival seems to reflect this – time is brief and oh my god have you written anything yet? Do you have a career? If not, do you have a secondary career? And then the subtext to that, at least in my mind, is why am I here why aren’t I just at home writing all the things, why haven’t I started a blog yet, why haven’t I written a feature film, why haven’t I collaborated on a graphic novel, why haven’t I written my own epitaph because I’m 23 and my life is slipping through my fingers.

We are the generation who wants everything and wants it all yesterday. That is what my girlfriend’s mother told me recently, as her daughter and I were talking about how we want to open a cafe together but also we want to spend time living in Berlin and, geeze, we’ve only got so much time to do either of them. I mean, the coffee is scene is really happening now, so you want to ride that mechanical wave, but also opening a cafe is a huge time investment and who knows how long Berlin will be there.

We are a generation who were raised being told that we can do whatever we want and that we would always be supported. We wanted to be writers and artists and travellers and wanted to learn about literature and history and we got degrees in things that had no application in the real world, or degrees for industries that were impossibly hard to break in to. We saw success all around us, we saw people from the internet suddenly being paid to be on the internet. Friends writing reviews for bands, bands that we had also seen that night but just now thought to write about and, are you kidding? Why didn’t I do that?

We read blogs that had started out as jokes amongst friends and blew up to be huge things, things that were turned into books and films and we thought, damn, that is so obvious, why didn’t I do that first? We want success not out of arrogance, but out of fear – fear of death, fear of dying into anonymity. It’s not OK to just have a job that you don’t like and work at it for years, because that is what our parents did and that is what they steered us away from. We should be doing what we’re passionate about but also we should be getting paid to do it.

We were so encouraged that we’re crippled by choice. We stand at the vending machine and stare at the revolving options, unable to choose between the salad or the soup (this is not a real vending machine, at least not at the time of writing) because we want them both and are absolutely paralysed by the feeling. Seconds waste out. Threads snap. We lose our minds in the labyrinth of the machine. Time trails out behind us as we sail on unguided, unable to stop the ride. We’re immediately nostalgic for things only just passed and horrified by the oncoming future; standing in the middle of this – (here I flounder about trying to think of the word – two triangles meeting at a single point? I Google “event horizon”. Insert a photo of Sam Neill.)

Sometimes I’ve thought of doing a kind of art-project/self-help thing where I ask people what they do with their day – how they break it up into sections, into hours, into meals, whatever. I want to know what they do so I can figure out what I should be doing – how can time be used? Am I doing it right? Mine would probably just have blocks where I eat meals or drink cups of coffee and then elongated question marks or interrobangs filling up the space in between. I guess the background of the chart would be my elongated face screaming into the void, possibly with the colours inverted to demonstrate confusion and anxiety.

While I was writing this I wanted to re-read Time Paradox but decided that I didn’t really have the time to read it, so I Googled to see whether I could find a quick summary of the book. I found a TED talk but even that is like six minutes long and I’m not sure I have the time.

So what am I meant to be doing? Time is brief and I’m not sure how efficiently and how effectively to waste it. How quickly can I live?

Christopher H., Eastwood, ADL




Oh dear! Ur troubleddddddd ha ha

No but did you actually read my book? Really? I’m not being mean but I just think maybe you didn’t read it or maybe U R an idiot? It’s actually called “The Time Paradox” so there’s mistake #1 (actually mistake #1 is prob. something to do w/ your upbringing/having a serious illness, IDK.)

Mistake #2 I guess would be not reading or not actually paying any attention to it? Like you got as far as diagnosing yourself and then went off to freak about it? lol there are actually exercises in the book to help you fix yourself before you deep-six yourself doyoyoyoy but basically it’s like

Q: what are you thinking about right?

If you said “right now, being alive” U R Oll Korrect

If you said “The future” U R wrong/dead

NE way whatever. Try mescaline? Haven’t myself but Aldous Huxley said it was sick.

Tweet ya later,

Robert Zimbardo


ps. muesli is not even that good for you have something lower in sugar, higher in protein

#morelikeblandfordexperiment #YODO #mescalinearound #timeparadix #counsellingFTW #TEDanson #breakfastofchumpions



Christopher Hocking is an Adelaide writer who has been published on Scum Mag and rejected by McSweeneys, Voiceworks, Stilts, Bumf and more. He is not good at marketing himself and sometimes wonders if he should have been a boiler maker.



(Top photo by Prairie Kitten)