Ah, free time—that elusive occasion during which worry fades to the back of one’s mind and the James Patterson novel on the coffee table or the dusty baseball hidden somewhere deep inside the coat closet seems to be the only thing of immediate consequence in one’s world. Seldom do we acknowledge, however, that how we spend our free time is a more fundamental reflection of our identities than countless hours spent in the professional, educational, and social realms. Indeed, every moment spent unconstrained by responsibilities to our jobs and our friends becomes an instance of pure self-expression. Perhaps that’s why we use the phrase “me time”—because it tells us who we are and what we want.
One may be wondering why a political journal should have any interest in the topic of free time. The answer is simple. Politics is the means by which members of a community bring their private concerns into a public forum and collectively set priorities—in other words, it is a means of self-expression. If the excess hours of the day offer us the best opportunity to express ourselves unbound by many of the restrictions imposed on us in the workplace, classroom, and elsewhere, then the subject of free time is of necessary importance to anyone interested in politics.
Furthermore, free time itself is often—although seldom obviously—politicized. Security services monitor how Americans spend their free time surfing the web. Governments impose curfews in the name of public safety. Laws in many countries tell us who we should love and may marry. These are, fundamentally, issues regarding the relationship that a citizenry should have with their government.
And intrusive regulations are far from the only ways in which governing institutions place limits on free time. Imprisonment and indentured servitude, for example, are systems used by state and non-state agents around the globe; and while each arguably fulfills an important social or economic function, they also impose particularly harsh restrictions on both the amount of free time one has and what she may do with that time.
On the other hand, in some communities, a very different problem dominates public discourse. How should a government intervene when the public has too much free time on their hands? The Spanish economy, with its 40 percent youth unemployment rate, is a case study in this dilemma.
While governments often restrict the time citizens have to themselves, they can also enrich the public’s free time. Through publicly funded parks, squares, and after-school programs and through safe streets and clean beaches, government can actually enhance the hours that we have to ourselves.
In hopes of stimulating discourse on this deeply personal and inherently political subject, we proudly present to you Free Time, the Fall 2017 issue of the HPR. In it, Sophia Li illuminates the creative ways in which prisoners make the most of their time behind bars. Mikael Tessema stresses the importance of rethinking the cultural value of work in the face of the rapid pace of automation, a phenomenon that could eliminate jobs and reduce working hours for many Americans. And Devontae Freeland examines the phenomenon of youth unemployment in Spain, which has given many recent graduates excess free time.
This magazine is the third produced by the HPR’s 49th masthead. I would like to thank and credit them and our entire staff, who have offered up countless hours of their free time to produce this issue. And finally, I would like to thank you for investing some of your free time into reading it.
Ali Abde-Tayyab Hakim
Image Source: Flickr/meaganjean