Emerging Technologies

Will digitisation change your perception of time?

Kai Goerlich
Writer, SAP Community Network
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The Internet of Things will connect many more devices and objects to the Internet and mobile services. The latest assumption by Intel show that we might have approximately 200 billion things connected in 2020. Very soon we will network things around us that have been thought of being purely physical and non-digital, like the espresso machine, the toaster, bikes, beds, music instruments, and even animals. How may we use all those information?

As human beings we are experiencing and acting within the limits of our biology, more or less adopted to our environment. Modern technology might expand our humanness beyond those limits and erase the boundaries between ourselves and our tools. Many people are already experimenting with cyborging, also called trans-humanism, either restoring a former lost body function or enhancing their abilities by integrating an artificial component or technology. But we don’t have to get into cyborging yet, as the sheer number of network objects might be enough already to change the experience of the world around us significantly in the next decade.

A neuronal construct or reality?

One of our most subjective experiences is time. Our languages mirror that: we get lost in time, time flies, we try to save or to find time, just before we run out of it. Obviously, time is a highly personal and overall controversial experience, despite the fact that many scientists and philosophers before us explored time already. In the classical philosophical thinking time is defined as something that happens in the inner world of an individual, only, as a construct of our thoughts, which would make time an illusion. According to Einstein on the other hand, time is part of space-time and one of the most important concepts of modern physics. And some scientists think, that we should get rid of time and treat it as part of a psychological frame in which we experience material changes in space. Philosophers, such as Yvonne Förster-Beuthan, professor at Leuphana University in Germany, follows a different thought in her latest book on the experience of time and ontology, by claiming, that time emerges within the interaction of a subject and an object. Think of time as something like color. Color is not there so that we see the green of leaves but because there is chlorophyll so that plants can use sunlight. But it needs some biosensors in our eyes to capture the light and some neurons to come up with the interpretation of a color. The same might be true for time: it is an interpretation but based on a real interaction or rather entanglement between a subject and an object. Therefore experience of time within the digitalized world can vary with our relationship to technology.

Time is culturally coded

Why is that argument important for us? Most of our modern societies are very time oriented and depend on a common experience of time, like the structure we give our days by defining work, dinner and leisure time and how we plan the future. But how we experience time in various situations is very different from culture to culture. The time concepts of the Western world are following a linear idea also called monochromic view, with the past behind and the future before us, a view that is not necessarily shared by all. In the Asian Buddhist culture, a lunar orientation is more common with on average shorter months that many other modern societies are used to. Some cultures such as the Hopi nation seem to have a very different idea of time with a lesser distinction between past and now. And as we know timeliness is very diverse as well.

Time management or managed by time?

What may happen in our networked world is a dissolution of not only the different cultural concepts but our own personal time experience by modern media. Individual time management is one of the bigger requirements in modern information technology. We simply have to deal with many more information and we have to act on various levels simultaneously. As Förster-Beuthan points out, it is now wonder that under those conditions we subjectively feel an acceleration of time. We now can participate in events around the globe nearly without delays which gives us the feeling of a real and real-timed experience. She thinks that time will be increasingly experienced “thicker” or “deeper”, as the hyperconnected world with all its devices enables us to get access to information from various layers of time, history, present and simulations of the future in parallel. Of course due to our cultural background we might simply not able to cope with those perceptions, running into a cognitive overkill. But Förster-Beuthan thinks that our brains have sufficient neuronal plasticity to evolve with our technology. She points to gamers who are known to play on a level of interaction that untrained people are unable to and expects that augmented reality will allow us to perceive the flow of time very different in the future. For the moment, we can’t think of perceiving different layers of time simultaneously but that may change as well.

As more connected things will give us more information and input, we may have to adopt to a different meaning of timing in the future. Let us just hope that all those connected objects will free-up enough time to have more leisure as well.

This article is published in collaboration with SAP Community Network. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Kai Goerlich writes for SAP Community Network.

Image: An illustration picture shows a projection of binary code on a man holding a laptop computer, in an office in Warsaw. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel 

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