Digital Time:The Smartphone, Digital Calendars Temporal TransformationSam Ladner              Catherine MiddletonPostdocto...
Time: cultural practice +technology
Time as site of contestation
The growing ubiquityof smartphones
The growing ubiquityof smartphones    22% of Canadians    8M people have    smartphones
The growing ubiquityof smartphones    22% of Canadians    8M people have    smartphones                  500M Outlook user...
Where is time in theliterature?
Theorists stuckin analogue
Technologistsmissing theory
Analogue vs digital calendars
The MobileWork LifeProject
The “secretaryfor the day”
The endlessto-do list
No divisions betweenhome and work
The “invisible”calendar
Time povertyand temporaltransformation
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Digital Time: The Smartphone, Digital Calendars Temporal Transformation


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A brief presentation for our paper presented at the Canadian Communication Association's annual meeting on June 1, 1012. University of Waterloo, Ontario. View the full paper at

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  • \n
  • Time is not just an empirical phenomenon. It is also a cultural one. It involves shared meanings, which, according to Geertz, is the very definition of culture. \n\nDurkheim famously talked about the temporal aspect of cultural activities in The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Berger and Luckman call it a central typification. Time is enacted through cultural practice.\n\nBut it is also enacted through the use of technology.\n\nThis paper is about the cultural aspects of the technology we use to mark time. Time-reckoning systems is the term that’s used in the literature to talk about the tools we use to mark time. And these tools are very important.\n\n\n\n
  • Time-reckoning technology is important because it’s often the site of struggle itself. Thompson’s famous study of “clock time” is the best known example. In this he talks about the clock itself and its role in industrialization, and the effects on social life. \n\nBut even more classic workplace studies have looked at how we manipulate clocks and time reckoning in general. The Gregorian calendar in Japan or “banana time” on the factory floor, time is a site of contestation. We struggle over time and its representation.\n\nThis study looks at this slice of time-reckoning tools, most specifically, the digital calendar we use on smartphones.\n\n
  • We need to know this. We have a huge number of people using these digital calendars and we have no idea what this shift means.\n\n\n
  • We need to know this. We have a huge number of people using these digital calendars and we have no idea what this shift means.\n\n\n
  • The literature on time itself is either very philosophical or very empirical. We have a real gap here.\n\nWe know that time is not a focus of anthropologists or sociologists in general, despite it being such a structuring force. We don’t know a lot about time. \n\nthere is a journal for it, unsurprisingly (there’s a journal of mundane behaviour after all). Time & Society is the place to publish these studies, generally, but it’s a special interest journal. Generally, communication journals don’t focus on time, nor do anthropology or sociology journals.\n\n\n\n
  • Generally we have two problems with the time and technology literature. \n\n1. No contemporary technology.\nNippert-Eng’s work on paper calendars is interesting, but it’s a paper calendar. There is work on the FiloFax and the hanging calendar, but almost nothing on these contemporary time-reckoning tools.\n
  • But on the other hand, those that study contemporary technology don’t give us a lot of insight into how these new technologies are affecting the social fabric of life. We know from this literature that people find smartphone calendars “efficient” and “useful.” But we don’t know how organizational culture and coercion has affected this technology adoption. We don’t know how the digital calendar affects work/life balance. In short these studies haven’t give us a lot of theoretically meaty insight.\n
  • We argue in this paper that we need to examine these new time-reckoning tools because they really are different.\n\nBriefly, the digital calendar is different because:\n\n- it’s easily edited\n- it’s bottomless. You don’t run out of “space.”\n- it can be networked: your calendar can be effortlessly connected to others.\n\n
  • Given all this, it really begs the question: how are smartphone calendars affecting everyday temporal experience?\n\nMore specifically, how are these calendars affecting our ability manage work and life?\n\nThis is what we asked with the Mobile Work Life project, which collected qualitative data last summer and is now in phase II collecting quant data.\n\n\n
  • Our study found that the smartphone itself guides everyday experience for these participants.\n\nOne called it “the bible” and another “the secretary for the day.” Still another said it told him, paraphrasing, whom to talk to, where to be and what to do when he got there. \n\nIt is, as one participant put it, “a framework to operate in.” It is this framework that we want to know more about. It’s a framework that reveals the world to us in a particular way. How does it do this?\n\nWhat is the nature of this revealing?\n\n
  • Bottomless doing.\n\nThey are continuously and quixotically organizing this framework. They are working within this framework of time put into imaginary boxes, of attaching reminders and alerts to these boxes. The planning never ends. There is always time to organize. We call this “event pruning.” \n\nThere is a never ending pile of stuff to do. One participant told us he is “planning planning.”\n
  • We also found, unsurprisingly, a blurred division between home and work. Some participants created separate “home” and “work” calendars on their smartphones, but this division was largely metaphorical because they accessed these calendars on the same device. Moreover, some participants didn’t even bother created separate calendars because it was “too much work.”\n\n\n\n\n
  • Interestingly, despite being a “framework to operate in,” the digital calendar largely disappeared from conscious view. We asked participants what they used their smartphones for and they usually forgot they used the calendar function -- until we reminded them.\n\nThis concealment is a clever trick technology plays. When it recedes from conscious recognition, it continues to nonetheless shape our view of the world. The endless empty boxes of time are still there, but we just don’t see them -- and we don’t see how the calendar is shaping our view of time.\n
  • - we have a popular discourse on time poverty yet the literature finds decidedly mixed evidence of longer hours, at best.\n\nwhy do we have this idea of time poverty, when we’re watching a lot more television and actually sleeping more\n\nWhy?\n\nBecause our “framework to operate in” represents time as an endless, bottomless set of invisible boxes we fill up with time. AT the same time, we don’t see this framework; it is invisible. \n\nWe are moving these boxes around believing we are making time, but we are actually USING our time to organize time. No wonder we feel rushed. We don’t have as much time to relax and reflect. \n\nRob Ford’s calendar is a case in point. The Mayor of Toronto was recently called on the carpet by the Toronto Star for having an insufficiently filled calendar! Consider what that might mean for a moment: we cannot have calendars that are not chock full, which means we cannot claim solitary work as “work,” nor can we claim informal conversations with colleagues or anything else that it not recorded.\n\nThis normative expectation of what constitutes a “proper” calendar of events is rapidly increasing. This could perhaps explain why we feel such an enormous pressure to be busy, even if the quantitative evidence says we are not any more busy than in years past.\n
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  • Digital Time: The Smartphone, Digital Calendars Temporal Transformation

    1. 1. Digital Time:The Smartphone, Digital Calendars Temporal TransformationSam Ladner Catherine MiddletonPostdoctoral Fellow Canada Research ChairRyerson University Ryerson University@sladner @catmiddleton Canadian Communication Association June 1, 2012 University of Waterloo
    2. 2. Time: cultural practice +technology
    3. 3. Time as site of contestation
    4. 4. The growing ubiquityof smartphones
    5. 5. The growing ubiquityof smartphones 22% of Canadians 8M people have smartphones
    6. 6. The growing ubiquityof smartphones 22% of Canadians 8M people have smartphones 500M Outlook users 350M GCal users
    7. 7. Where is time in theliterature?
    8. 8. Theorists stuckin analogue
    9. 9. Technologistsmissing theory
    10. 10. Analogue vs digital calendars
    11. 11. The MobileWork LifeProject
    12. 12. The “secretaryfor the day”
    13. 13. The endlessto-do list
    14. 14. No divisions betweenhome and work
    15. 15. The “invisible”calendar
    16. 16. Time povertyand temporaltransformation
    17. 17.