10 Modern Time-Savers That Really Aren’t

Certainly some inventions streamline daily life. But many have a funny way of stealing minutes, even hours, from your day—like these 10 culprits.

Photo by Ellen Silverman

In January, Apple unveiled the iPad. It is loaded with 16 gigabytes of memory and has a 9.7-inch touch screen, and pretty soon, I imagine, I won’t be able to live without it. It will save me time because I’ll never again have to schlep my novels to the charity shop, move them from one home to the next, or even go to a bookstore. But not all so-called convenience items confer a trifecta of time-saving benefits. I should know. I spent the last year juggling four computers and two handhelds while I, aptly enough, worked on a book exploring how our lives became so tyrannically ruled by e-mail. And I learned that e-mail wasn’t the only thing guilty of hoovering my valuable hours. Read on for a full rogue’s gallery.

 1. The DVR: TV viewing recently hit an all-time high of 151 hours per month, according to a Nielsen study, and the digital video recorder may be partly to blame. That lineup of shows you’ve recorded—which is tellingly called “To Do” on TiVo—is handy, but how many times have you felt compelled to watch every last thing in your queue? Having a DVR, which encourages you to tape any program you’re slightly curious about, makes it far too easy to spend hours watching 25 women battling it out on a Slip ’n Slide for an aging rock star’s heart.

 2. The interstate system: In the 1920s, paved parkways replaced dusty roads, and a unified network of highways spread across America. And from that point on, everyone thought getting across town (much less the country) would be trouble-free. Oh, well. These days our highways are clogged: Exhibit A, the New Jersey Turnpike on a Sunday in August. Traffic has gotten so bad that the average American will spend 36 hours in it every year. That’s time that could be spent reading, writing letters, or even having sex. As much as you might like listening to NPR, it’s a sorry substitute.

 3. The commuter flight: In theory, puddle jumpers can take you from one state to another before you finish your sudoku puzzle. But that’s not the full picture. These routes are often riddled with delays. For instance, in October 2009, a certain airline we won’t mention had a 10:25 a.m. flight from Phoenix to Sacramento, California, that was late 95 percent of the time (yes, you read that correctly), with average delays of more than 40 minutes. And when you add in the time spent getting to the airport, waiting in the security line, and worrying if that bag of pretzels will expand in your stomach at 33,000 feet, you might as well hitchhike.