Oh the irony – My intention 6 weeks ago was to get a dialogue going between Bauman and Buddhism, and here I am getting sidelined by the concepts of iTime and Pointillist Time – still, at least I’m experiencing the subject matter of this essay……
‘Whenever you are, be sometime else’. A philosophical analysis of smartphone time by Demian-Noah Niehaus
Defining iTime/ overview of the essay
In this article, Niehaus examines how smartphones create a new temporality which, (following Agger, 2011) he calls iTime (NB iTime does not represent a qualitative break with the earlier internet era, rather its evolution and intensification.)
The essay is an insightful commentary on the growing trend in smartphone use (Niehaus cites research in which users spend on average 132 minutes each day communicating and using social media on their phones.) The essay also challenges industry data citing users’ own reflections on the emotional consequences of their iTime as an overwhelmingly positive experience (sentiments such as “connectedness” are far more common than “overwhelmed,” “stressed out,” “burdened/anxious,” or “lonely”). This essay offers a deeper, darker analysis of the downside of iTime, and of time spent in hyperculture more generally.
iTime is a wonderful example of what Bauman calls Pointillist time. To cite Bauman….
‘As lived by its members, time in the liquid modern society of consumers is neither cyclical nor linear it is instead pointillist, marked as much by the profusion of ruptures and discontinuities, by intervals separating successive spots and breaking the links between them, than by the specific content of the spots. Pointillist time is more prominent for its inconsistency and lack of cohesion than for its elements of continuity and consistency…. Pointillist time is broken up, or even pulverized, into a multitude of ‘eternal instants’ – self-enclosed monads, separate morsels, each morsel reduced to a point ever more closely approximating its geometric ideal of non-dimensionality’. (Bauman 2007, p.32)
According to Niehaus, iTime has five core characteristics. It is…
a) permeated by constant interruptions, willed or imposed;
b) often structured by the addictive hunt for frissons, short instants of excitement and pleasure;
c) characterised by constant connectedness;
d) happening within the temporal and organisational structures of modernity, while each moment is ever-more packed with contents, references, and tasks. The structures of late Modernity remain the same, but perception at the level of the microstructure is radically altered;
e) It is likely to take precedence over the linear, single-minded time of one activity.’
Niehaus analyses the experience of iTme from a range of perspectives and points to the following features of the experience of ‘being in iTime’, all related to the fact that the experience of iTime is typically attended by an intensification of multitasking, a strategy many people adopt in order to cope with the constant influx of wanted and unwanted information. The experience of iTime is characterised as follows…
1. The moment is filled to the brim and often far beyond which means that the speed of the actual experience of living is radically altered and is accompanied by a general rise in felt urgency.
2. It works against us being in the ‘here and now’ because every moment is filled to the brim with references to elsewhere.
3. You end up doing more but find it difficult to concentrate on what it is you are actually doing for a sustained period.
4. Related to all of the above, because iTime is so ‘full’, ‘doing nothing’ becomes difficult.
In short, according to Niehaus’ analysis, the experience of iTime is fragmented and frantic, schizophrenic and agitated, and its open invitation to consume everything all at once prevents us from becoming masters of anything (because the later requires a sustained, concentrated engagement with whatever the object of attention).
While Itime does encourage these tendencies, users will use iTime differently. It’s not as if every user constantly has half a dozen windows or ‘applications’ on the go. Different users will have different capacities to sustain concentration on one thing at a time while in Itime. It would be interesting to find some research on what percentage of iTimers are truly ‘addicted to the ephemeral-fragments’, lacking personal control over how their iTime is directed, and thus might be labelled as suffering from a kind of hyper-anomic condition.
Conversely, I wonder what percentage use iTime in a very intentional and aware manner, characterised by having clear information-gaining goals, limiting the amount of time they spend online, limiting the amount of windows they have on the go, and thus manage to avoid the fragmentary tendencies of Itime. My own experience today is somewhere on the later side, but not characterised by complete control. I’ve learnt a great deal by reading one essay that’s not quite related to the main topic I should be focussing on, but I’ve also developed lots of ideas that I know will gestate into something truly fruitful (and truly not that interesting to most) later on.
Also, the vast majority of people spend the vast majority of their time not in ‘real time’ rather than Itime, so one has to wonder (and probably remain wondering, because this is the kind of thing that’s very difficult to research) about the extent to which being in Itime effects people’s real-world life-worlds.
Having mentioned all of these cautionary notes, I still think this is a very worthwhile philosophical essay that highlights some very real problematic, negative tendencies of the experience of being in iTime and being in the virtual world more generally.