Can't Spare a Square

by Denise Berger


Seinfeld, features an episode called The Stall, wherein Elaine asks a woman next to her in the bathroom to pass some toilet paper. Do you remember it? All you can see on the screen are the stalls and their feet. The woman guardedly replies, “no, I’m sorry. I can’t spare it. There is not enough to spare.” Elaine pleads with her, “just 3 squares will do it,” to which the woman replies, ‘I don’t have 3 squares. I don’t have a square to spare... I can’t spare a square!” Absurd, insane and silly, but not if the toilet paper is a metaphor for TIME.


I recently ran my own little experiment to determine aptitude of individuals to spare 5 minutes of their time, my hypothesis being: even the easiest of task being requested is viewed as too burdensome and ends up going ignored. I sent a simple request to 200 people: read a 1-2 page article, go online and add a one-sentence comment about it, and then pass it along to one other person to do the same. (Think the tag-line from an old shampoo commercial, “And they’ll tell two friends… and so on… and so on.) Instead, only 19 people responded.


These results are completely what I anticipated. Whether you work full-time, work part-time, don’t work, raise a family, take care of an elder or simply have no responsibilities, people don’t have the time AND energy to deal with all the information gathering, data collection, knowledge sharing. The Families and Work Institute wrote in Overwork in America: When the Way We Work Becomes Too Much, “there is little question that the way Americans work and live has changed in recent years. The fast-paced, global 24/7 economy, the pressures of competition, and technology have blurred the traditional boundaries between work life and home life. Furthermore, this new economy calls for new skills—skills like responding quickly to competing demands and jumping from task to task. In response, the topic of being overworked has become a hot subject of discussion in workplaces, in the media, in medical journals, and in homes.”