Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Virtual Time Game

By Tim Olds

Men and women would spend their time differently if given less or more time each day.

Professor Tim Olds leads the Health and Use of Time Group at the Sansom Institute for Health Research, University of South Australia.

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What would you do if you had 5 minutes to live? I asked this question to the philosophy classes I taught some years ago. The answers of this group of aspiring sports scientists ranged from the mundane (say goodbye to my family and friends) to the predictable (have sex with my girlfriend) and the poignant (walk in my garden), from the aspirational (run a 2 km time trial) to the yeah-I’d-like-to-see-that (have sex with my girlfriend three times). Playing the “virtual time” game tells us a lot about our values and priorities, much in the same way as dreaming of what we would do if we won the lottery.

Surprisingly, for such an interesting question, there have been very few studies of virtual time. One UK survey of more than 11,000 adults found that given 1 hour extra each day, about 20% of adults would choose to sleep, 30% would choose to be physically active, and the remainder would mainly choose active or inactive leisure. The authors concluded that the desire for more sleep was far from universal. An earlier study found that if adults had to find an extra hour from their day for an urgent task, almost all said they would sacrifice television.

We surveyed a representative sample of Australian adults, and asked them to recall everything they did on one weekday and one weekend day. We then showed them the record of their day, and asked them how they would modify...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.