The industrial revolution was not the start of our obsession with productivity, but the changing of gears when it came to our musings on time – and how we get the most out of it. Turbocharging capitalism with steam engines, the creation of household devices and more efficient modes of communication, technological innovation serves as the pivot around which we leverage our time. With today’s data-driven on-demand economy, we are winning back some of that precious time. But are we getting the most out of it? As technology transforms our grip on time, it’s up to us to make it work for us.
Contemporary lifestyles rotate at a dizzying pace from work to play, with technology blurring the boundaries between the two while offering the essential oil to the chain. Filling our lives with efficiency boosting checklists is an activity in itself, as we strive for greater productivity in order to gain more time. But the more efficient we become, the more ‘tasks’ that end up on our ‘to-do’ lists. Like energetic mice running on the slick wheels of modern life, we imagine what we would do if we had more time – as though it were the equivalent to winning the lottery.
But where is this drive for productivity coming from? With technological innovations tapping into the need for a greater grip on time, that intangible element that seems to slip through our fingers like sand, we must look to Silicon Valley. It is the birth place of the now infamous “Inbox Zero” concept that has driven the daily churn of emails since 2007, when Merlin Mann advised audiences at Google to process emails until no more remain in order to remove the anxiety of growing task lists and get on with the rest of your day. Moreover, it is the major tech hub, in which these tools are not only developed, but the culture of innovation and productivity flourish – an exhaustive loop beamed out to the rest of the world via cloud-based apps.
Clock watching: where we spend our time
The reality is that the number of hours we work is decreasing. According to OECD figures (opens in new tab), between 2000 and 2017 the average number of hours worked per year globally decreased by 5.3 per cent or 92 hours per year – amounting to 20 minutes less per day, based on 260 working days per year. With only 1.2 per cent or 4 minutes, this decrease is less visible in the UK. Nevertheless, with flexible working practices becoming more common and the gig-economy taking off, it is fair to assume that time spent working will continue to decrease, particularly as automation and AI technologies begin to unburden employees from the more time-consuming administrative tasks.
Where is this extra time being spent? When we are not entertaining ourselves? Last year Netflix subscribers around the world watched a whopping 1 billion hours per week and Brits watched 3 hours of TV per day (opens in new tab) – we are using our devices to organise ourselves and save time. Despite the controversy around Uber, there are 3.5 million users and 40,000 drivers in London alone utilising the ride-share app to soften their journeys. From Evernote to Wunderlist, there is an endless array of productivity apps to help us manage our time inside and outside of work, so we can optimise productivity and fit more in. Even fertility is a tick-list job with the contentious Natural Cycles app claiming to help women to ascertain when they are most fertile – or not depending on desired outcome. By inputting personal health data apps, we can sync with our bodies, giving us a sense of control over our destiny and the ability to make life-changing choices.
Data sits at the heart of this modern manifestation, the powerhouse of contemporary existence. Out of sight, its exponential growth is shaping our futures, expanding like our very universe and changing our perception of time as we know it. The technologies that are both turbocharging and feeding off the explosion of data are worth noting.
Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) plays an important role in the digital transformation of major industries. It is the biggest new kid on the block in terms of sustaining data-heavy businesses. It helps make it possible for us to scroll through Instagram as we wait for an Uber in a rush to get the yoga class we booked via the ClassPass app. Hyperconvergence is an IT framework that combines storage, computing and networking into a single system in an effort to reduce data center complexity and increase scalability. This means that those essential cloud-based apps we rely on are constantly available. With essential services always-on, we won’t be late for yoga and our Game of Thrones marathon might never end.
Elements of time: social constructs with social impacts
With no down-time and hurtling through life at the speed of our data, it is not surprising that even those milestone moments marked with hefty news coverage are clocking in fast – or is it simply that the reporting is in real-time leaving no time for reflection? The combination of instantaneous echo chambers on social media and rolling news coverage, means the so-called fourth estate and ultimately the foundations of our democracy are starting to look a little shaky.
While facilitating human productivity, could it be that technological innovations are also creating a hyper-reactive world that despite fighting for more time, does not truly value the power of time? As we increasingly buy ourselves time, through the purchase of services, increased personal efficiencies and less working hours, extracting quality time will be essential for our own well-being and that of society.
Soon we’ll be accustomed to collaborating with an AI workforce fueled and accelerated by increasingly sophisticated technologies, with the discussion around the universal income serving as an important reminder of how much time we could have on our hands. This is why it is important that we practice using our extra time now to stop and reflect. What do we want and how can we use this time in a meaningful way that will truly bring us happiness? Only then will the time warp flex towards the betterment of society, making our technical innovations truly worthwhile.
Laurence James, Products and Alliances Manager, NetApp (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: Still Life Photography / Shutterstock