NEW YORK — New York. -- You are short of time. Technologists know this and are trying to help -- in their fashion. First, your symptoms:
* A 60-second television commercial -- these dinosaurs do turn up on some obscure cable channels -- feels like a full-length feature film. You can't believe how it goes on and on.
* Before you reheat leftovers in the microwave, you plan an activity to fill the 90 seconds that might otherwise be spent watching your food through the little window.
* You keep your wristwatch within a minute of the correct time. Dialing 976-TIME -- big business since the telephone companies spun it off -- is not good enough any more. Now you have software that connects with the United States Naval Observatory to recalibrate your computer's clock.
* You've started to notice that some recorded music has longer intervals between tracks than others.
Even if you haven't noticed, someone must have -- my new Sony Discman lets you do something about it. The instructions crow, ''You can enjoy playing with less blank space between the tracks.'' Everyone knows that in the era of channel flipping and fast food, a minute is an eternity. But those gaps between songs are no more than a second or two.
The problem is, even a second is long -- not an instant anymore. It stretches out before us as a container, with events and voids to be filled with milli-, nano- or picothings. A second is long enough for impatience to begin welling up.
The evolution of technology has long been about saving time, but on grosser scales than now. The cotton gin, automobile and vacuum cleaner let people work, move and clean faster -- savings to be measured in hours and minutes. But now we think in fractional seconds. A millisecond here, a millisecond there -- does it really add up?
The consumer-product laboratories think so. They are slicing time ever more finely for us, catering to our sense of urgency, hurrying us along. Toasters are toasting faster. It might take two or three minutes for a liquid-based under-the-tongue thermometer to rise to your temperature. New thermometers are electronic and, naturally, faster.
The household-products groups at companies like Black & Decker, developers of the Dustbuster (don't have to spend time walking to the closet; don't have to spend time plugging it in), find time-saving opportunities all through the standard household day.
Seconds are wasted in ironing (heat-up time) and coffee making (brewing, steeping), which the Black & Decker people have plucked with their new Handy Xpress iron and Brew 'n' Go Coffeemaker (for the ''hurry-up market''). They cite a Gallup survey showing that most Americans, and especially baby boomers, say they ''do not have time to do everything that needs to be done.'' The answer may be self-evident. The question, surely, is revealing.
The technologies can be simple -- quicker-heating coils in toasters and irons -- or clever. Portable CD players use memory chips to store a few seconds of music and process it before feeding it back -- recovering from skips and, as a side benefit, squeezing the blank intervals between programmed songs.
Some new telephone-answering machines have quick-playback buttons, for when your callers drone on and on with their shaggy-dog messages. Because the technology is digital, the pitch doesn't rise a la the Chipmunks. The sound just goes . . . faster.
How did they know I was so busy I couldn't stand to listen to my friends speak with normal languor? The current generation of answering machines seems to favor a 25 percent speedup. No doubt we'll soon learn to expect -- and understand -- even more rapid-fire speech.
Who can say just where we began the slide down this long, strange slope? One place may have been the New York World's Fair in 1964 and 1965. Many thousands of people waited in line at the AT&T pavilion to try out Touch Tone dialing. They got to dial numbers the old, rotary way and then the new, push-button way. An electric readout showed just how many tenths of a second they could bank.
However much it was, we now know it wasn't enough. In the post-Touch-Tone generation, you probably have speed-dial buttons on your telephone. If you're willing to invest a half-hour in learning to program them, you can earn that investment back four seconds at a time.
And in some places telephone directory assistance now offers callers the option of automatically dialing the number they just retrieved, for a price. A case study in what time is worth: In the New York metropolitan area, it appears that 21 percent of us are willing to pay 35 cents to save about four seconds.
So, what are we doing with all these seconds? Money can be acquired, saved and spent. We sometimes act as though we could treat time the same way. ''But we only seem to shift time from one activity to another of equal distraction,'' says Greg Blonder, director of human-centered engineering research at AT&T.