war & peace
time and speed
This page looks at questions of time in digital environments.
It covers -
Early theorists about cyberspace and the 'internet
economy' often suggested that time - or merely decision
making - had speeded up and that attention spans had somehow
Pundits popularised the notion of 'internet time'.
At best that involved access to services on a 24/7 basis
(whether through use of databases that operated continuously
rather than traditional business hours or through communication
across geographical time zones, with call
centres in Mumbai for example servicing requests by
consumers in Devonport, Delaware or Dusseldorf).
More fancifully, it involved claims that corporate decision-making
and restructuring had speeded up, claims that often featured
an exaltation of new business models and abandonment of
time in the digital economy
Has digital technology changed perceptions of time
and fundamentally altered business practice? The answer
Mobile phones and email
have offered greater connectivity for many people in advanced
economies, often with a blurring of traditional demarcations
between business, social and private life. Claims that
we are destined to live in an 'always on' environment
however seem overstated, as individuals learn to manage
their accessibility and leverage facilities such as voice-mail.
As we commented to one client, mobile phones can always
be switched off and email redirected.
Hype about new business models in the 'internet economy'
popularised notions that new technologies could get products
to market at 'light speed' and that traditional bureaucratic
structures should be 'blown to bits'. Several years after
the dot-com crash much of
the writing such as Competing At The Speed of Light
has a distinct flavour of hubris, with an over-emphasis
on instant gratification, digital mantras and assumptions
that development on-the-fly will offset analysis and planning.
Regis McKenna, author of Real Time: Preparing for
the Age of the Never Satisfied Customer (Boston:
Harvard Business School Press 1997), argued that in the
internet economy there is no chance for pause or contemplation
instantaneous nature of networking allows us to participate
in realtime activities. We used to sit back and reflect
on things. Now there's almost no time even for planning.
By the time you put out a six-month plan, the marketplace
may be true in some sectors but overall it is woefully
far from reality. Much of the concentration on time has
centred on corporate burn rates, ie whether start-up
funds for individual dotcoms will evaporate before each
entity becomes commercially viable. Those entities are,
however, only a small part of the overall economy and
we have yet to see a convincing case for the abandonment
of reflection, particularly given regulatory or manufacturing
A more pressing concern for many start-ups - and for many
established enterprises - is 'short-termism', in particular
investor expectations about quick return, burn rates and
the tyranny of the quarterly report.
Competing on Internet Time: Lessons from Netscape and
Its Battle with Microsoft (New York: Free Press 1998)
by Michael Cusumano & David Yoffe offered the more
nuanced suggestion that
on Internet time is about more than just being fast.
The apparent compression of time is only one dimension
of life in and around the Internet. For us, competing
on Internet time is about moving rapidly to new products
and markets; becoming flexible in strategy, structure,
and operations; and exploiting all points of leverage
for competitive advantage. The Internet demands that
firms identify emerging opportunities quickly and move
with great speed ... managers must be flexible enough
to change direction, change their organization, and
change their day-to-day operations. Finally, in an information
world where too many competitive advantages can be fleeting
and new entrants can easily challenge incumbents, companies
must find sources of leverage that can endure.
examples include Davis & Meyer's dotcom tract Blur
- The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy (Oxford:
Capstone 1999) and Charles Fines' Clockspeed: How To
Survive & Flourish In The Age Of Temporary Advantage
(New York: Little Brown 1998).
Claims that life has 'speeded up' - and that we are all
the poorer for it - are evident in works such as James
The Acceleration Of Just About Everything (New York:
Random House 1999), Carl Honore's In Praise of Slow
(London: Orion 2004), Tom Hodgkinson's How to be Idle
(London: Hamish Hamilton 2004), Corinne Maier's 'slacker
manifesto' Bonjour Paresse: De l'Art et la Nécessité
d'en Faire le Moins Possible en Entreprise (Paris:
Editions Michalon 2004) and Michaela Axt-Gadermann's Joy
of Laziness (London: Bloomsbury 2005).
Such claims are, however, problematical. As we note below,
they have been a feature of laments since at least 1700
and embody particular cultural/economic values.
Those values have been associated with attributes and
organisations that some would consider surprising: notions
of 'community', 'authenticity', 'simplicity', 'rage against
the machine' (or merely the city) and antimodernism that
are evident in the poujadist policies of One Nation, 1930s
volkish movements and grizzles such as Clive Hamilton's
fashionably miserabilist Affluenza (St Leonards:
Allen & Unwin 2005) and Growth Fetish (St
Leonards: Allen & Unwin 2003), Elizabeth Farrelly's
Blubberland: The Dangers of Happiness (Cambridge:
MIT Press 2008) or Zygmunt Bauman's Liquid Fear Liquid
Times: Living in the Age of Uncertainty (London:
Polity Press 2007).
They have spawned notions of 'voluntary simplicity' (give
your goodies away and live in a hut in the wild woods)
that resonate with survivalists and exponents of self-abnegation
such as Wittgenstein but arguably are not viable for most
people. Will a diet of nuts and berries (and the occasional
squirrel) make you happier?
Insights are offered in Buying Time and Getting By:
The Voluntary Simplicity Movement (Albany: State
Uni of New York Press 2004) by Mary Grigsby, Discretionary
Time: A New Measure of Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge
Uni Press 2008) by Robert Goodin, James Mahmud Rice, Antti
Parpo & Lina Eriksson and Rhythms of Life: The
Biological Clocks that Control the Daily Lives of Every
Living Thing (New Haven: Yale University Press 2008)
by Russell Foster & Leon Kreitzman.
Paul Lafargue, son-in-law of Karl Marx, claimed in The
Right to Be Lazy that "in capitalist society
work is the cause of all intellectual degeneracy, of all
organic deformity". Maier's predecessor Raoul Vaneigem
echoed that lament with the claim that
organization of work and the organization of leisure
are the blades of the castrating shears whose job is
to improve the race of fawning dogs. One day, will we
see strikers, demanding automation and a ten-hour week,
choosing, instead of picketing, to make love in the
factories, the offices and the culture centres?
they will demand Aeron chairs and an MP3 player as well.
Comments on historical periodisation - such as the 'age
of the internet' - are featured here.
instant gratification in the attention economy?
McKenna's characterisation of 'real time' as
I am calling our sense of ultracompressed time and foreshortened
horizons in these years of the millennial countdown
arguably has deeper roots, reflected in genres such as
the One Minute Manager - considered here
- and Readers Digest Condensed Books.
It is exemplified by Mark Breier's The 10 Second Internet
Manager - Survive, Thrive & Drive Your Company in
the Information Age (New York: Crown Business 2002),
the secrets in one place - worth the time to read even
if you don't think you have 30 seconds to spare.
is also reflective of what has been characterised as the
(or other decisionmakers) are 'time-poor' and faced
by a plethora of choices and information
vie for increasingly smaller portions of attention
are offered by works such as Thomas Davenport &
John Beck's The Attention Economy: Understanding
the New Currency of Business (Boston: Harvard Business
School Press 2001)
media have discovered a range of pathologies such as
attention deficit disorder
is uncritical reception by the media of claims such
as Basex's 2006 assertion that "interruptions"
from email, the web and instant messaging cost the US
economy US$588 billion per year (an echo of 1920s laments
about the cost of allowing employees to visit the bathroom).
Goldhaber, in The Attention Economy: The Natural Economy
of the Net, wrote
are moving into a period wholly different from the past
era of factory-based mass production of material items
when talk of money, prices, returns on investment, laws
of supply and demand, and so on all made excellent sense.
We now have to think in wholly new economic terms, for
we are entering an entirely new kind of economy. The
old concepts will just not have value in that new context.
the pace of change
A recurrent lament from at least the beginning of the
Industrial Revolution is that the pace of change has increased
since the preceding generation. It is thus unsurprising
to see claims that the rate of technological innovation,
commercial restructuring or social change in the 'age
of the Internet' is unprecedented.
As we have suggested in the Revolutions
profile elsewhere on this site, such claims are ahistorical.
Many contemporary laments seem deeply traditional.
One writer complained that
world is too big for us. Too much is going on, too many
crimes, too much violence and excitement. Try as you
will, you get behind in the race, in spite of yourself.
It's an incessant strain to keep pace ... and still,
you lose ground. Science empties its discoveries on
you so fast that you stagger beneath them in hopeless
bewilderment. The political world is news seen so rapidly
you're out of breath trying to keep pace with who's
in and who's out. Everything is high pressure. Human
nature cannot endure much more!
the author was writing in the Atlantic Journal
in June 1833, not in Wired, Who Weekly
or the Australian in 2004.
Historical points of reference are provided by Graeme
Davison's The Unforgiving Moment: How Australia Learned
To Tell The Time (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 1993),
Harald Weinrich's Knappe Zeit: Kunst und Ökonomie
des befristeten Lebens (Munich: Beck 2004), Stephen
Kern's The Culture of Time & Space, 1880-1918
(Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press 1983), Allen Bluedorn's
The Human Organization of Time: Temporal Realities
and Experience (Stanford: Stanford Uni Press 2002),
Time: A User's Guide (London: Penguin 2008) by
Stefan Klein, Wolfgang Schivelbusch's The Railway
Journey: The Industrialisation of Time & Space in
the 19th Century (Berkeley: Uni of California Press
1987), Carlo Cipolla's Clocks and Culture: 1300-1700
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins 1967) and David Landes' Revolutions
in Time: Clocks & the Making of the Modern World
(New York: Norton 1993).
For anthropological perspectives see Alfred Gell's The
Anthropology of Time: Cultural Constructions of Temporal
Maps and Images (London: Berg 1992), Pitirim Sorokin's
Sociocultural Causality, Space, Time (New York:
Russell & Russell 1964), Gerhard Dohrn-Van Rossum's
History of the Hour: Clocks & Modern Temporal
Orders (Chicago: Uni of Chicago Press 1998) and Robert
Levine's A Geography of Time: The Temporal Misadventures
of a Social Psychologist, or How Every Culture Keeps Time
Just a Little Bit Differently (New York: Basic Books
1998). Eviatar Zerubavel's Hidden Rhythms (Berkeley:
Uni of California Press 1985) and The Seven-Day Circle
(New York: Free Press 1985), Barbara Adam's Timewatch:
The Social Analysis of Time (Cambridge: Polity Press
1995), Todd Rakoff's A Time For Every Purpose: Law
& The Balance of Life (Cambridge: Harvard Uni
Press 2002) and William Scheuerman's Liberal Democracy
and the Social Acceleration of Time (Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins Uni Press 2004) are of particular value.
Cesare Marchetti - responsible for Marchetti's Constant
- argues that from Neolithic times to our age the time
spent travelling by most people each day has remained
at a fairly constant 90 minutes, although the distance
travelled during that time has expanded dramatically.
time management and reflection
Weinrich's Knappe Zeit notes the antiquity of
notions of time management and a time economy, which predates
the vogue for 'scientific management' (or merely Fordist
time & motion studies) apparent in adoption of prescriptions
from Taylor, Urwick, Gilbreth, Drucker and Deming.
It is also apparent in personal nostrums such as the Filofax
or PDAs and the 2006 invention of 'lifehacking', promoted
to a suitably affluent audience as "Tech Secrets
of Overprolific Alpha Geeks" (aka time management
for buyers of the O'Reilly Dummies genre).
Drucker announced that
is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed nothing
else can be managed
in practice most lifehackers and users of Filofaxes or
their digital equivalents appear averse to 'chunking'
and tabulating time use. For many 'management' of the
resource is something that occurs by osmosis through purchase
of the status symbol, not through day to day use.
Most contemporary time management prescriptions would
have been familiar to Epictetus, Emile Coue or to Ben
Franklin. The latter would presumably have embraced cracker
barrel injunctions such as
time to plan your day. You should be in control of your
time, not the events of the day
If you know your best time of day is between say 9am
and 11am, you should reserve this time for your most
Firmly decide when you will complete one or two really
important tasks of the day. Block some time out to deal
with these - just as you would a meeting - and don't
You will never achieve a major objective if you do not
break it down into manageable steps. Each day/week you
should be nearer to your desired result
Be prepared to say 'NO' to tasks which will prevent
you from achieving your objectives Learn to say 'NO'
in an acceptable way.
Be assertive rather than aggressive or passive.
are echoed in works such as Laura Stack's Leave the
Office Earlier (New York: Random 2004) - "We're
not talking about tidying up the desk clutter" -
and David Allen's Getting Things Done: The Art of
Stress-Free Productivity (London: Penguin 2001),
Maggie Jackson's Distracted: The Erosion of Attention
and the Coming Dark Age (Amherst: Prometheus 2008)
or Making Time: Why Time Seems to Pass at Different
Speeds and How to Control It (London: Icon 2008)
by Steve Taylor.
Timothy Ferriss' fatuous The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape
9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich (New York:
Crown 2007) suggests that the digital elite delegate tiresome
tasks, such as reading email or writing, to menials -
particularly those in lower-cost places such as Bangalore.
"Living?" said Villiers de L'Isle-Adam in 1890,
"The servants will do that for us!" ... and
don't be surprised if performance
by the horrid lower orders is sometimes less than desired.
For pre-digital time management gurus see Robert Kanigel's
The One Best Way: Frederick Winslow Taylor & the
Enigma of Efficiency (New York: Viking 1998), Frank
Gilbreth & Ernestine Carey's Cheaper by the Dozen
(New York: Cromwell 1948), Jane Lancaster's Making
Time: Lillian Moller Gilbreth - A Life Beyond "Cheaper
by the Dozen" (Boston: Northeastern Uni Press
2004), Tom Lutz' Doing Nothing A History of Loafers,
Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America (New York:
Farrar, Straus Giroux 2006) and Anson Rabinbach's The
Human Motor: Energy, Fatigue & the Origins of Modernity
(Berkeley: Uni of California Press 1990).
Swiss watch manufacturer Swatch promoted the notion of
'internet time' (with a Greenwich-style time meridian
passing through its headquarters in Biel).
Swatch's Internet Time is the same over the globe, with
no time zones or daylight saving adjustments. Its system
divides the day into 1000 '.beats', each consisting of
one minute and 26.4 seconds. It is of interest to fashionistas
and journalists but has not had a perceptible impact in
the real world.
of New Earth Time, a competing scheme, inform us that
is now a place. In the future as we are more connected
one to another, this place will need a new common language
of time. New Earth Time, or NET, is a proposed global
standard time which divides the global day with 360
degrees ... Now you can act locally in your time and
globally in New Earth Time.
the development of 'standard' time see Derek Howse's Greenwich
Time & the Discovery of Longitude (Oxford: Oxford
Uni Press 1980) and Ian Bartky's Selling The True
Time (Stanford: Stanford Uni Press 2000). They note
that the UK developed the first time zone in 1847, with
Greenwich Mean Time signals being transmitted by telegraph
from 1852. New Zealand beat Australia with establishment
of its NZ mean time in 1868, followed by the US (with
five time zones being adopted by some 200 cities prior
Time Lord (New York: Pantheon 2001) by Clark Blaise
notes the work of Canadian railway planner Sir Sandford
Fleming, who in 1870 proposed a global scheme for 24 time
zones - an hour apart and at at set distances from Greenwich.
The 1884 International Meridian Conference under the auspices
of unmemorable president Chester Arthur established Greenwich
as the prime meridian and adopted a standard 24-hour universal
day. Most nations thereafter adopted hourly time zones
(15 degrees apart), although the absence of binding international
treaties means that China and India each have only a single
zone, in contrast to nine in the US and 11 in Russia.
the 33 hour day
Marketers have promoted the notion of a 33 hour day (or
43, 36 or 32 hour day) as an indication of consumer exposure
to print and electronic media.
In 2006 for example Yahoo! and OMD in the Family 2.0
report (leveraging buzz about Web
2.0) claimed that US consumers "now live a 43-hour
day" that is "filled with more than 16 hours
of interaction with media and technology".
During 2005 MTV more modestly claimed that a "normal"
day lasts 32 hours, of which 6.5 hours were "devoted
to various media".
If you can't do the maths, do not worry. The 24 hour-plus
day simply signifies that individual consumers (or families)
are multitasking - aka media stacking - listening to the
radio or television while reading a book or newspaper,
sending email or web surfing to the accompaniment of noise
from MTV or an iPod and so forth. That is hardly revolutionary,
as some people were multitasking from the early days of
the gramophone or
radio (or family
Proponents of a 'higher' reality have offered deliciously
zany 'alternative' time schemes. José Arguelles
for example proposes replacing "linear time"
with a "loom of resonances" that users navigate
via a "galactic signature" based on the day
of their birth, their "password in fourth-dimensional
time". Uh huh. He is reported as explaining to the
New York Times that
post-2012 world will
be a world of universal telepathy. We'll be literally
living in a new time by a 13-month, 28-day synchronometer
that will facilitate our telepathy by keeping us in
harmony with everything all the time. There will be
a lot fewer of us, with simple lifestyles, solar technology,
garden culture and lots of telepathic communication.
[Those who] have not evolved spiritually enough to know
that there are other dimensions of reality [will be
taken away in] silver ships.
ships are presumably better than the nice men in white
Other writers have used 'time' as a basis for grizzles
about modernity or capitalism, with or without a genuflection
to Heidegger and Virilio. Thomas Erickson fretted that
modernity = speed. Speed supposedly -
an addictive drug
to simplification and a loss of precision
creates Fordist effects without greater efficiency
space" (filling in all available spaces in the
lives of others)
reader of Eriksen's Tyranny of the Moment: Fast and
Slow Time in the Information Age (London: Pluto Press
2001) thus claimed that information technology encourages
"a restless, fleeting mode of being, and a superficial,
hurried culture, which is inimical to fundamental values".
Head to Todtnauberg, kids, and don't take your iPod!
There are similar critiques in Soraj Hongladarom's 2002
'The Web of Time and the Dilemma of Globalization' in
18 The Information Society (2002) 241-249, Mike
Sandbothe's 'Media Temporalities in the Internet: Philosophy
of Time and Media with Derrida and Rorty' in 4(2) Journal
of Computer-Mediated Communication (1998), Heejin
Lee & Jonathan Liebenau's 'Time and the Internet at
the Turn of the Millennium' in 9(1) Time & Society
(2000) 43-56. Other works include Ray Land's 2006 'Networked
Learning and the Politics of Speed: a Dromological Perspective'
and Lance Strate's 2005 'Eight Bits About Digital Communication'
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