The Metaphors of Time: which one do you use?

George Lakoff is a linguist, and his writing partner, Mark Johnson is a philosopher. They’ve written about metaphors and how they shape the way we think about concepts. Lakoff has written about metaphors in conservative politics, for example, as a way that shapes the notions of morality.

I’m exploring three metaphors to understand time:

  • Time as a resource: time is treated as something that can be “spent” or “used”
  • Time as a symbolic practice: time is made up of the ways we organize it, e.g., through calendars, clocks, or religious festivals
  • Time as a conscious experience: time as understood only through the experience of doing things

The first metaphor is what underlies “billable hours.” Hours are worthy money. Hours are what you bill clients for. Hours are also something you sell as a worker.

The second metaphor is made up of practices around time. How is time talked about? Separated? How do you book your vacations? What practices or policies does your company use to “reckon” time?

And the third metaphor is about time passing as you work. Does time pass quickly or slowly? Does it seem to “speed up,” even though the clock says it’s going at the same pace?

I’m interested in which one of these metaphors is used, and when. I believe there is a paradox in creative work, like that done in agencies. When you’re engaged in creative work, you will experience “flow”, or the warping of the conscious experience of time. But when you bill clients, you are using “time as a resource” as your metaphor. These two conflict. But where? And when?


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