Our perception of time has changed

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It represents a seismic shift in our culture

As we progress through what we hope is the latter stages of this pandemic, it’s worth revisiting something that was self-evident this time last year, but since then we may have subconsciously adjusted. We’re talking about our perception of time.

Twitter avatar for @heykerra
kerra 🍭
The pandemic has completely changed my perception of time. What do you mean I’m “late?” I’ll get there when I get there, you’re lucky I’m coming at all!!
March 9th 2021

Do you identify with the above tweet? I’ve found that I’m not only late (for online appointments) but I’m often wondering what day it is, or what time of the day it is, and having no clue as to the answer. It’s almost July, and it feels like the year has flew by.

Of course, this is the second year in a row in which that’s happened.

Has enough time passed that we can now perceive this altered sense of time, not just in the moment, but in context?

A secular society lacks a literacy of time in no small part because time is traditionally the domain of religion. The rituals and rites of religions serve to orient their communities (and practices) in the cycles of seasons and time.

In place of religion, many people turn to sports, or culture, but both were significantly disrupted by the pandemic.

Which is why metaphorically you can regard the pandemic as an apocalypse, which we’re now beginning to rebuild from. To literally build a new world using pieces from the old.

Yet if we ignore or refuse to understand our new found relationship with time, we’re gonna find the restart frustrating, and perhaps incompatible.

For some, it is about the creation of new routines, for others it’s about adapting previous routines to fit our new realities.

Which is why work dominates our sense of time. What you do directly impacts how you live, and how you perceive time.

For many, this feeling of stuckness is not new. Those who cannot keep up with the ever accelerating global flows of money, ideas, commodities and people often feel left behind. Critics of capitalism have therefore argued we need a slowing down of time.

In my work on postindustrial cities, I have studied our relationship with the future in times of economic crises. These crises are part and parcel of capitalism, as Marx told us more than 150 years ago. After the second world war, however, welfare states largely kept economic crises at bay.

But the 1980s neoliberal reforms of capitalism resulted in a dismantling of the welfare state. National governments stopped fathoming five-year plans. Just-in-time production and new technological developments, such as the internet, led to an unprecedented acceleration of time.

Certainly the last few decades have featured an accelerated culture where whether via technology or globalization, everything seems to be sped up. We all struggle to keep and inevitably feel we’re being left behind.

Temporally, neoliberalism has put humanity into crisis mode for several decades already. Without job security and in ever changing markets, many of us struggle to plan ahead – getting stuck in the present. The way to beat this stuckness is to “muddle through”, or as the British more heroically say, “keep calm and carry on”.

Many postindustrial cities, such as those in Wales and north-east England, have lost a take on their collective prospects. After years of industrial boom and high employment rates, many inhabitants now feel their towns have “no future”. The dismantling of local industries, such as mining, has led to high unemployment and unforeseen levels of migration out of the areas. The young and well-educated move away in search for jobs, while those who stay behind witness the slow decline of their hometown.

To overcome a lack of foresight and enforced presentism, their urban governments have had to reclaim the future planning rather than just responding to events. Despite ongoing decline, they have had to ask themselves: how do we want our city to look, say, in five years time?

Coming out of the pandemic, we’re in a unique position to engage in a kind of futurism that can empower us to redefine our relationship to time.

In that context, the pandemic is an opportunity, to slow things down and reflect on where we’re at.

Tomorrow’s issue is going to look at the “labour shortage” and in particular the future of labour markets (in North America), but it seemed important that we address the elephant in the room first.

That our perception of time has been permanently altered. Given that our past perceptions of time were almost entirely work-centric, what will this mean for the future of work?

The easy answer is that work (and workplaces) that adapt to this new conception of time will find success. Those that do not will find conflict.

What do you think? Has your perception of time changed? If so, how? Let’s explore this together in the comments or via #metaviews.

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