Friday, March 14, 2008

Technology Has Changed Our Concept of Time

One of the most fascinating concepts that human beings have grappled with has been the phenomenon of time. Time is a basic component of the measuring system used to sequence events, to compare the duration of events and the intervals between them, and to quantify the motions of objects. Understandably, time has been a major subject of religion, philosophy, and science, but defining time in a non-controversial manner applicable to all fiends of study has consistently eluded the greatest scholars.

Time is always changing. Time never stands still. Time is continuous and not stationary. Time changes our perceptions, and our perceptions of time change continuously. Time is infinite; change is essential to time.

A day is the duration of time it takes for the earth to rotate all the way around. The sun does not really move across the sky; it appears that way because the earth is spinning. A year is the time it takes the earth to orbit the sun.

In my pop-psych book, Living Life, Anyway, Chapter Ten talks about living live temporally. The beginning of that chapter discusses the interaction of time and awareness:

"Being aware of “time” means much more than looking at a timepiece and knowing where the big hand is and where the little hand is. Being aware of time, living your life temporally, among other things means that you are aware of the ephemeral nature of the world and the transitory, impermanent, and evanescent nature of life. In a delightful, yet tongue-in-cheek manner, William Penn observed: 'Time is what we want most. But what alas! We use worst'.” (p. 75)

With the upward spiraling of technology, we have seen the emergence of “real time” which among other things refers to events simulated by a computer at the same speed that they would occur in real life. In graphics animation, for example, a real-time program would display objects moving across the screen at the same speed that they would actually move. My experience has been that when a person uses the term “real time,” he or she is saying that when we are connected or in communication with another person – no matter where they are in the world – for those of us involved it is the same time – “real time.”

Pertinent to my thesis in this Post is my repeated experience and observation that technology has changed our concept of time. For example, when my grandparents lived in New York, Miami was three days away – for my grandson, it’s three hours. When I was a child, unless I used the telephone, if I wanted to ask one of my grandparents a question, by the time I mailed the letter and received their return letter, it basically took one week to get their answer to my question. Today, via e-mail, I can answer my grandson’s question in one minute.

Today, everything seems to happen quickly – almost in the moment. Moreover, a lot of things seem to be happening “at the moment.” Thus, being in the moment can infer being busy with a lot of things going on. To wit, what is our conceptualization of “tomorrow” – the day after today? Next week? And what about our conceptualization of “the future” – is it tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Next year?

What am I suggesting is this: since our “today” has become a high energy, busy, pack-filled experience, it may have put “tomorrow” almost outside of our cognitive radar screen. For example, when I asked my children about specifying when we might have our family reunion this coming summer (three or four months from now), their typical response was, “I’m so busy at the moment with so much going on, I have no idea as to what I’ll be committed to or involved in this summer.” (And a tacit implication in their responses was, “It’s hard for me to plan that far out.”)

I truly understand the experience of many of today’s high-energy, highly involved, technology-involved generation (listening to their Bluetooth on their ear, looking at their Blackberry in their left hand and text-messaging with their i-phone with their right hand), “Today is very busy and tomorrow looks like a blur – I can’t see beyond next week.”

Question: Have you ever felt that you were moving so fast that you couldn’t think or see beyond what’s in front of you, just on the other side of the windshield?

Bill


4 comments:

Martin said...

The short answer is yes. To me the speed at which everything gets old is amazing. In this world caught up with what is happening now, it seems hard to plan for the future. Governments changes policy daily to suit the changing mood of the people at the expense of the many tomorrows.
It is so easy to be swept up with the speed of change and not look were you life is leading you.
Thankfully growing up I was taught that as much as things change the important things stay the same. It is those constants in my life that are important to me and help me through the more difficult times which happen every now and then.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello Martin,
Thanks for the visit and sharing your experience and insights. And there are some things in life’s future that if they’re not planned for, they may never happen.
I use the term “hold on to your core values” as a way of saying what you’re saying… when things change rapidly or get chaotic, don’t forget your constants in life.
Thanks again… hope to see you another time.
‘til then,
Bill

DH said...

The concept of time is so important, and often overlooked. IMO people in the world today are generally overextended. It has become a world of quantity rather than quality. Doing more, being more, having more, etc. all requires time and energy. Actually "being in the moment" requires doing less. I am not suggesting being non-productive is the answer, but I know for me "less is more". I try not to overextend myself and enjoy "what is" rather than "what might be".
Technology is a luxury. We can use it to make ourselves busier, or we can use it at our leisure. It reminds me of one of my soapboxes... the telephone. In any given home, people hear the phone ring...the whole house stops what they are saying or doing to make sure "someone get that!" No, I won't...I pay the phone bill, so that I can use it...not so it can use me! Phones are great, but let's not forget we all choose how to respond. If we choose to be at the mercy of every piece of technology, so be it. But I choose to have technology work for me, and not vice-a versa. Anyway, enough of my soapbox. Good topic.
-DH

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello again DH – good to see you!
I love your soapbox statement: “I choose to have technology work for me, and not vice-a versa.” I’ll use that in one of my lectures (and credit you for it).
Haven’t seen any recent Posts on your blog – you may be experiencing what I’ve been experiencing (a little burnout…).
Hope all’s well with you, and thanks again for sharing your experience and insightfulness,
Bill