People are saying that time has sped up—and that digital technology is to blameby Dolly Church / March 6, 2019 / Leave a comment
We are first taught that time is something reliable and constant. We expect it to run indefinitely and assume it won’t change—with the exception of perhaps a leap year, daylight savings or a natural disaster tipping the earth on its axis.
Einsteinian world theory showed this to be a simplification; rather, time is a dimension, just like space, where everything exists all at once. This is perhaps truer to how the passage of time feels. We don’t experience equal increments: we live lingering moments of embarrassment, drawn-out silences, whirlwind romances and tragedies that cause time to stop altogether. We seem to live on our own time, all at once.
These distortions in time are generally taken to be natural and personal, but something has recently changed: people are saying that time has sped up—and that digital technology is to blame.
It is easy to relate the pace of our lives to the pace of technological innovation. It is also easy to think that technology is hijacking our time, like a digital casino, keeping us in with infinite scrolling and cookies rather than tinted windows and free alcohol. In her 2014 book Pressed for Time, Judy Wajcman showed that these impulses are simultaneously intuitive and hubristic. This is because they rely on the idea of the newest technologies being the most revolutionary.
When we think of fast-living we tend to draw on the futuristic: contactless, touch IDs and virtual assistants. In spite of being sold to us as time-saving, these technologies relieve mere minutes, if not seconds, on the day-to-day—seconds we probably waste looking for our phones or remembering our passwords. This comes at the expense of older technologies, which are obscured into the backdrops of our lives in spite of their usefulness. Wajcman, for instance, gives the example of the baby-bottle. Consisting of little more than plastic and rubber, it truly transformed how women spent their time, changing both who could feed children and when they could do it.
More than a product of technology, our hurriedness seems to be symptomatic of a cultural shift towards acceleration where progress is conflated with productivity. It often feels like every moment unused is a wasted opportunity and it is this very thinking that has us, as Wajcman puts…