The future is now: Douglas Coupland unveils why perception of time has changed

Douglas Coupland

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Real Business recently went to Berlin to attend an intriguing event by Konica Minolta on the future, where author and scriptwriter Douglas Coupland unveiled some hard-hitting truths about technology shaping the way we think.

…Douglas Coupland told the audience how he found himself reading short stories instead of lengthy books. This is because the way we measure time has been distorted thanks to technology.

In the past, our perception of time was based on what we did during the day. That’s no longer the case, he explained: “I’ve been experiencing this temporal sensation that I just can’t shake. Here’s why: Until recently, the future was something that lay ahead of us. It was something we anticipated and even dreaded. Somewhere down the line the present melted into the future. We’re now living inside the future 24/7. It’s what I call the superfuture.”

This time displacement has occured because we no longer need to remember directions or algorithms to process data. Data has become the supreme ruler of time, making us measure the day through images, spreadsheets and mp3’s – and it’s made “real time” a scary place to live in. Imagine the chaos that would unravel if technology were to crash.

“How I miss my pre-internet brain!” he said.

See also this article on the writer’s talk.

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Why time management is ruining our lives

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The quest for increased personal productivity – for making the best possible use of your limited time – is a dominant motif of our age. Two books on the topic by the New York Times journalist Charles Duhigg have spent more than 60 weeks on the US bestseller lists between them, and the improbable titular promise of another book, The Four Hour Work Week, has seduced a reported 1.35m readers worldwide. There are blogs offering tips on productive dating, and on the potential result of productive dating, productive parenting; signs have been spotted in American hotels wishing visitors a “productive stay”. The archetypal Silicon Valley startup, in the last few years, has been one that promises to free up time and mental capacity by eliminating some irritating “friction” of daily life – shopping or laundry, or even eating, in the case of the sludgy, beige meal replacement Soylent – almost always for the purpose of doing more work.

And yet the truth is that more often than not, techniques designed to enhance one’s personal productivity seem to exacerbate the very anxieties they were meant to allay. The better you get at managing time, the less of it you feel that you have. Even when people did successfully implement Inbox Zero, it didn’t reliably bring calm. Some interpreted it to mean that every email deserved a reply, which only shackled them more firmly to their inboxes. (“That drives me crazy,” Mann says.) Others grew jumpy at the thought of any messages cluttering an inbox that was supposed to stay pristine, and so ended up checking more frequently. My own dismaying experience with Inbox Zero was that becoming hyper-efficient at processing email meant I ended up getting more email: after all, it’s often the case that replying to a message generates a reply to that reply, and so on. (By contrast, negligent emailers often discover that forgetting to reply brings certain advantages: people find alternative solutions to the problems they were nagging you to solve, or the looming crisis they were emailing about never occurs.)

The allure of the doctrine of time management is that, one day, everything might finally be under control. Yet work in the modern economy is notable for its limitlessness. And if the stream of incoming emails is endless, Inbox Zero can never bring liberation: you’re still Sisyphus, rolling his boulder up that hill for all eternity – you’re just rolling it slightly faster.

Nike’s Super Simple Ad Takes Aim at Smartphone Addicts

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We’re all wasting our lives on our phones and social media when we could be out exercising. That’s the message of Nike’s latest campaign through Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, a series of simple ads in which a robotic, Siri-like voice informs us how much time we’re wasting “watching other people’s picture of their cafe macchiato, or their dog, or their baby,” while her words flash up on a black screen.

A one-minute spot, seen here, sums it all up: we’re wasting potentially 32 years of our life scrolling through meaningless stuff on screens when we could be packing in some more training.

On Social Media, Everything Happens All the Time

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Chinua Achebe, the celebrated Nigerian author of Things Fall Apart, died at the age of 82 in 2013. But to social media, he only passed away this weekend. People began tweeting condolences (or re-condolences) Sunday night, writing “RIP” and “another one gone” and sharing the New York Times obituary from two years ago.

The re-mourning of Achebe spread far enough online to eventually reach high-profile users like the White House national-security advisor Susan Rice, who chimed in Monday morning with her own tweets…

It wasn’t just Rice who missed the fine print—the “news” duped plenty of people. So what happened? As Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton pointed out, someone likely posted a remembrance of Achebe’s death and recirculated the New York Times obit. Others, seeing the headline and not the timestamp, believed Achebe to have just died, so they fell victim to “reflex sharing” …It wasn’t a hoax, just an Internet-assisted ripple effect.

And that ripple effect happened because social media is, Benton wrote, “unstuck in time,” where old material can be recycled digitally to seem new, where what’s trending no longer means what’s most recent.

…Readers don’t always look at the date and the time of a story, because there’s no association between the story and the time they see it. When in the past, people physically picked up newspapers from their doorsteps at a certain hour during the day (or tuned into TV networks for nightly news), today, the same information is presented to them online not as headlines, but as topics, transformed into key words transformed further into hashtags. The notion of timestamps associated with individual stories can seem, well, outdated.