By mgieva • April 6, 2010

How the digital ecosystem redefines our perception of time

One thing my friend's aunt who has cancer has been talking about recently is how people measure time based on their work schedules. You are either at work or off work, and this seems to be the only way people define time. Until today, that is.

With an increasing number of people working and finding entertainment online, our perception of time is rapidly changing. Technological innovation has tempted us to take up work tasks in the small hours of the night and engage in non-work related activities during regular work hours. In other words, the artificially erected barrier between time for industrious occupations and spare time has be shaken.

According to a 2004 research published by NIOSH, employees in America work the highest number of hours annually compared to those in other countries. In the U.S., one would work about 350 more hours per year than one would in Europe, the study showed.

Yet that doesn't mean all Americans work from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m on weekdays. In fact, a 2004 Work Schedules and Work at Home survey showed that about 30 percent of wage and salary workers "have flexible schedules on their primary jobs." The digital ecosystem contributes to this elimination of strict work schedules and reinforcement of a different perception of time.

The continuously blurring line between fixed work hours and leisure activities is one reason that newspapers are facing a crisis. As economist Hal Varian noted in a blog post for Google, news is increasingly consumed in a work environment while the print press remains an activity for one's leisure time. In the past, readers flipped through their papers in the mornings and evenings, outside of  the professional space. But today, when breaking news stories and controversial Op/Ed pieces are only a click away, readers can scan them duirng work hours.

Social networks have also helped redefine our notion of time and space. Facebook and Twitter, for instance, definitely contribute to the intersection between one's professional and personal identities. For many, it has become increasingly harder to keep one's private persona at home.

The work bars emerging across the U.S. today have become a spatial demonstration of this redefinition of time. They illustrate the blurring line between home and work, leisure and work in a very palpable manner. The coffeehouse, a place historically associated with recreation and  casual chats, now hosts visitors engaged in work projects. Thus, the work bars remix the traditional office environment with spaces for relaxation.

The digital ecosystem, redefining established work habits and familiar spaces, is undoubtedly changing our perception of time. The question is, how do you like this change?

Photo credit: ToniVC and T ART