The modern history of time is largely an economic one and the story of its standardisation is closely tied to the colonial and industrial exploits of the past one and a half centuries.1 Accordingly, we use the language of economics to talk about time. We save time, we invest time. Time, especially free time, is seen as a scarce resource. But in 2020, that’s not the only thing at stake anymore. The struggle around time is no longer just about working hours. We live in a time of deregulated working hours, home offices and ‘digital nomads’, in which the division between labour and leisure is becoming an increasingly muddled grey zone. The start-up language of efficiency, productivity, and (self-)optimisation has successfully infiltrated the domain of leisure time. Read these 10 books that will get you ahead of the curve, meditate for 12 minutes away from your phone so that you will be able to be more focused and productive later. A line at the top of the article page tells us how many minutes we can expect to spend reading it.
It is becoming more and more difficult to define what we mean by ‘free time’. How has this led us to think about time in our digital age? What value do we assign to it? Are we on the path to assigning more value to information, over knowledge and the human processes behind it?
What does this do to how we perceive the passage of time and how we value it as an important site for producing knowledge?
Accessibility and immediacy facilitated by technology create a continuous flow of information. They allow for constant checking, sorting, and categorisation, culminating in the goal of banishing all uncertainties and ultimately feeding our anxieties. Meanwhile, the time and human effort that go into the process of knowledge production go unvalued, as they are sidestepped in favour of speed, efficiency, optimisation, and productivity.
At the same time, the ubiquity of certain technologies and digital spaces in our lives has become an unquestioned default. Unwanted ‘down time’, can immediately be filled with content from a device seeking to entertain us with its pixeled screen, and distract us from feeling the weight of the passage of time. There are always enough tasks and constantly renewable sources of stimulation to keep us either busy or entertained.
Opting out of technologies and certain digital spaces, and the goal and entertainment driven approaches to which they subscribe, is becoming more and more difficult. Reports show us how having access to offline, technology-free time is less and less a matter of choice and more an issue of factors like class.2 Is all unplanned analogue time on the path to being erased from the experience of being human, in the quest to banish its close cousin, boredom? How can we re-illuminate the importance of such time in the production of knowledge?
My own practice through this course has been one of a mindful re-visitation of my own relationship to time, by exploring different routes and modes of transport between Berlin and Stockholm and choosing to ‘invest’ anywhere from 2.5 to 30.5 hours for each journey. As I undertake each journey, I map the knowledge produced along the way. In this inefficient drifting and the frustration of the occasional boredom accompanying it, I locate a site of resistance. I propose that we revisit the acceptance of the passage of time as a site of knowledge production and with that, bored time, ‘nothing time’, wasted time, unplanned time, empty time and ‘free time’ as important germinators for creativity and complex thinking.