Author: Stephanie Caskenette

Presence and the Present: Subjective Temporalities and Flow on the Internet

In the age of the Internet, networked individuals find that their lived time is spent more and more often consuming online content, with the only break from browsing sessions finding form in slow loading times or mandatory advertisement viewing. The measurement of an online time, beyond strictly content duration, has run into difficulties as the temporality of computer-mediated makes such a concept difficult to define in the first place. Efforts to create an Internet time zone have focused purely on a conversion to a universal measurement that is applicable to real world, international environments. This is perhaps most well-known in Swiss watch company Swatch’s creation of the Swatch Internet Time (SIT), a time model that follows the decimal-based system inspired by the proposed (and failed) French revolutionary clock (Lee & Liebenau, 2000). In SIT, the twenty-four hour day is divided into one thousand ‘.beats’, each made up of about one minute and twenty-six seconds, with the marking of time delineated with an @ (such as “meet me at @604”). This system would do away with the need for time zones in planning international online events (such as the streaming of a broadcast) as everyone regardless of location could set their Swatch watches for a certain beat-time.


The concept was, predictably, unsuccessfully implemented for several reasons and not only due to the commercialized branding and odd punctuation indicating its unit. Not only would it be impractical and difficult to convince the entire online user base to swiftly adopt a new type of time structure, but a Gregorian-like time model simply does not account for the complexities in temporality online. Anyone engrossed in their browsing habits for work, research, or leisure can find time slipping away from their perceivable attention, as what may seem like an hour of reading Wikipedia or watching YouTube videos can actually turn out to be several when one finally remembers to glance at the time. Certainly SIT was simply trying to unite the global village of the Internet under one clock, but quantifiable time finds itself at odds with the disassociation of the ‘here and now’ of media consumption when one is fully immersed in a world without a beginning or end point; such is the prime characteristic of absent-minded or boredom-induced Internet browsing and the production of ‘click bait’ content that can draw users in for hours, generating valuable advertisement revenues for large global marketing companies.

This paper is concerned with the contrasting temporalities between on-and-offline living. It questions the meaning of time in an activity where logical systems of tracking time are lost. Furthermore, it seeks to understand how these liminal temporalities effect larger socioeconomic structures and consumer activity. My argument will focus on three areas: the experience of flow in Internet immersion, the application of Husserl’s inner time-consciousness in creating online user narratives, and how consumerist practices rely on these phenomena in increasing user retention and advertising engagement. In following these lines of thought, it will be posited that the influence of the Internet requires new understandings of a temporality that adjusts capitalist time measurement into a more fluid state, gaining strength through a compression of time rather than strict delineation of societal time blocks that are followed. Continue reading »