A Coming Crisis of Temporalities? Disruptions of Atomic and Solar Time

In their chapter Time and Space of the edited volume Critical Terms for Media Studies (2010), Mitchell and Hansen address a fundamental question that has puzzled philosophers and media thinkers since Ancient Greece: can time and space “be defined objectively, without recourse to human experience and distinctively human modes of perception and understanding” (p. 106)? According to Aristotle, they explain, “there is no time that is not measured […], which is equally to say that there is no time in itself, there are only temporalizations, technico-empirical specifications of time” (p. 111). Technological development, more specifically advances in the accuracy of measurement and tracking of time, introduces new temporalities which in turn disrupt those already present. The atomic clock, introduced in 1967, has been such a technological development, and has arguably disrupted existing temporalities like no other technology before then. In this short essay, we will discuss this disruption, leading to a potential scission between the time displayed on our clocks and the cycle of the sun. Is such a fundamental shift even conceivable? Continue reading »

The Short and the Sweet: Social Media Temporalities

Social media have been examined from nearly every angle available; they have been demonized, exulted, dismissed and celebrated for their frivolity. However, no matter what your opinion on the subject, one thing that is clear is that social media is demanding more and more of people’s time in our society. We give social media an inch of our time, and it tries to take a mile.

In this study, I examine various social media websites and apps through a lens of temporality. In order to make money, social media companies structure users’ time in a two-fold manner. First, as Christian Fuchs explains, social media websites are designed to keep users coming back more often, and for longer periods of time. Second, as I argue in this paper, social media structure the content on their sites temporally as well in service of the same goals. This can be done through the imposition of time limits on the existence of data, or through the recollection of data from years past. The imposed temporal regimes of the sites in question – Snapchat, Bumble, Timehop, and Facebook – offer new forms of communication which are interesting to users and keep them engaged, while simultaneously offering capital benefits to the companies that make them. Continue reading »

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 »

Continuous Play: Intersecting Temporalities in the Live Performance of Entire Rock Albums

The popular music industry is comprised of structured temporalities that shape how music is produced and consumed. In an era increasingly marked by individual songs and shuffle mode, a band choosing to play a full album live in concert may seem antiquated. However, this act has been called “a sign of the times” that can attract new audiences and stimulate lagging careers (Laban 2015). This trend has recently been practiced by a diverse group of established musicians: the Stooges have performed their 1970 album Fun House, Rush has toured 1981’s Moving Pictures, and Lou Reed has played all of 1973’s Berlin, to name just a few. Following the proliferation of digital music, a decline in album sales, and a subsequent increase in concert revenue, musicians’ livelihood is now primarily dependent on touring, and the need for musicians to innovate in order to maintain relevance and success means they must now focus their attention to possibilities in the live setting.

Recent research has correlated file-sharing with higher concert revenues (Mortimer, Nosko, and Sorenson 2012). It has also shown that concert revenue and demand for concerts by established musicians have not varied significantly because of these artists’ pre-existing visibility, but that they can also lose market share because of lesser known artists gaining greater access to the market (4, 14). While this study reveals important statistical data, it raises questions about the qualitative features that established musicians use in the current live context, which suggest a need to compete in a changing market. Performing an album live is a “way to stand out” (Vincentelli 2006) by reinventing a musicians’ archive. In this way, the shifts in music listening and consumption that negatively impact the album (and record sales) also maintain its relevance (ibid.). Established musicians in particular are in the privileged position of benefitting from the accumulation of a back catalogue and the passage of time, which creates the possibility of a musical archive, the canonization of albums, and activates memory.

The live performance of an entire album is an intersection of the past, present, and future. In this paper, I argue that the live performance of a full-length album intersects past and present economic and industrial practices that shape and reflect this contemporary moment of change in musicians’ labour. I will situate this practice as a form of innovation that extends and reinterprets a musicians’ back catalogue from the recorded medium to the medium of the stage. In this way, this practice is dependent on the existence of a musical archive and history and the once-significant album format. In addition, the simultaneous and collective presence of album, live performance, musicians, and audience represent a temporal overlap of the roles of recorded music and touring, of which the purposes as economic drivers of musicians’ labour have shifted with time and technology. This study foregrounds the important role of time and temporality in media and communication studies, and exemplifies how a temporal perspective illuminates economic, technological, and industrial change and continuity in the cultural industries while providing insight into how these temporalities become hardwired. Continue reading »