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Can Money Buy Time?

Putting aside the culture of immediate gratification.

They may be fashion designers, watchmakers or entrepreneurs but, when I ask these newsmakers what their definition of luxury is, the answer always comes back the same – time. With the clock relentlessly ticking off those 24 hours each day, it’s easy to see why we tend to have little patience for anything we perceive to take longer than it should.

How long, for instance, would you wait for an online video to load? One… two… oh, forget it. For a good number of people, two seconds would be the limit. A 2012 American study of 6.7 million Internet users worldwide found that people began to abandon the downloading process after a waiting time of two seconds, with 25 per cent of users giving up at the five-second mark.

According to The Boston Globe, Ramesh Sitaraman, the computer-science professor who spent years developing the study, “worries that someday people will be too impatient to conduct studies on patience”.

Some people may ask, what’s wrong with wanting to get what I want, fast? Well, besides the fact that most of us probably don’t want to inadvertently give ourselves heart attacks, I can give you a simple reason: Good things are worth waiting for.

Let’s start at the macro level: Google Glass, high-altitude Wi-Fi balloons and driverless cars are a few of the key concepts that have emerged from Google X, the top-secret innovation lab of the technology giant. While these concepts are still being perfected, they could eventually revolutionise the way billions of people use the Internet, or make our roads safer.

When Google co-founder Larry Page was taken to task about the amount of money the company was investing in research that yielded no immediate results, he responded that the sum was relatively small compared to Google’s profits. He said: “My struggle in general is to get people to spend money on long-term R&D.”

Our short-sighted tendency to focus only on the present is a point that David Carden, lawyer and former US ambassador to Asean, brought up when I interviewed him for a feature in this issue. An advocate for youth boards in organisations, Carden believes that the next generation will serve as a tangible reminder to decision-makers about the importance of sustainable practices, and how “our obligations go beyond the moment, the next quarter, and the profits of the current fiscal year”.

On an individual level, attaining worthwhile objectives – be it a meaningful personal goal or a tangible object of desire – is often an exercise in patience. Having more disposable income can allow one to own things that others can’t – but it doesn’t automatically mean less of a wait.

At the Watches and Wonders watch fair in Hong Kong last September, Vacheron Constantin retail director Dominique Bernaz told me about a bespoke order placed by a private client. The client wanted “the most complicated timepiece of the 21st century”. The manufacture’s custom-order division started work on the timepiece – a pocket watch – in 2006. Its scheduled year of delivery? 2014.

Said Bernaz: “The simpler (custom) pieces take eight months to a year to make, while the more complex ones usually take two to three years. This watch that took seven years to make will be the most complicated timepiece in the industry.”

In this case, it takes more than money to buy time. It also takes, yes, time.