Embodied Time

The New Year makes many of us think about time. I got to thinking today about embodied time, human time encapsulated into physical form. What is embodied time?

We call it money. We use money to buy things that we don’t have the time (or ability) to produce ourselves. Given infinite time, even I could learn how to grow cotton, harvest it, gin it, and weave it into shorts – the shorts I needed for a run today because I forgot to pack them!

If I had endless time, perhaps I too would follow the Gandhian tradition of making my own clothes. But I don’t, and I chose to use embodied time, aka money, to buy those shorts from someone else – in this case a large corporation. At the end of the day that corporation applied human time and effort to the creation of those shorts.

We apply modern technology to amplify human productivity, and the linkage between money, time, and the economy can be seen in the concept of Productivity. In economics it’s measured as $ of GDP per hour of labor – it quite literally expresses to us that money is embodied time! Perhaps AI and robots will free us from this linkage, but recent advances show us just how far we still have to go.

The economy today is constrained by a lack of time. Not enough humans are able or interested in investing their time in production, and this is the chief obstacle in bringing inflation to heel [1]. If the economy is constrained by time, that’s because we as humans feel constrained ourselves. Retirees cannot and do not want to spend their remaining years working, and core population growth has gone negative across the developed world – there just aren’t enough new kids on the block.

What’s to be done? We need to find more human time, more work hours. It turns out that capacity is right under our noses! An increasing percentage of working-age folks aren’t working, but it’s not at all uniform. A substantial percentage of full-time workers want MORE work – these are the workaholics that want 60 hours a week long term. Hey that’s me too, and I recognize them because I’m part of that crew. I’ve averaged 60 hours a week for most of my career, and many startup founders and employees are quite familiar with these sorts of hours. And medical residents would scoff at how easy a schedule that is!

When I started fraction, it was based on a core hypothesis: that 10% of the US professional work force both WANTS and is able to work 60 hours per week. This hypothesis has proven out – about 40% of developers, designers, and product managers that we’ve spoken to (a thousand and counting) are interested in taking on extra work, and roughly one-fourth of those have the capacity and ability to do so. 10% of the 80M US workers able to work remotely is 8M part-time workers, or 4M FTEs. When I validated this, I felt like a gold miner sitting atop a massive gold seam – in an economy desperate for workers’ time, we’ve got labor time enough to close the entire US labor shortage!

I’d like to take those workers’ time and embody it, turning it into money (and economic benefit) for US workers and companies alike. A lot of folks I know wonder why, after a successful saas software exit, why on Earth would I get into a services-oriented business? My answer: I feel I’m on a quest to supply the resource the country needs most today – skilled labor. More knowledge work getting done means more solutions to every problem today, from climate change to health care to Americans’ top current priority, inflation. I’ll plow all of 2023 into that, and hopefully in the process help a lot more people embody a lot more time.


[1] I’m generally optimistic on inflation given the trends seen in the energy, food, home, and goods sectors – the Fed’s moves are working. But they seem determined to keep the heat on to corral wage inflation as well, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some negative prints in the coming year.

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