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Social time: how to keep up with everything
Social time: how to keep up with everything

Is time really accelerated - sociology answers.

What is social time and why it has become more difficult for us to keep up with everything
What is social time and why it has become more difficult for us to keep up with everything

Time is one of the dimensions of reality that a person tries to delineate using conventional values: centuries, years, days, hours and seconds. It goes from the past to the future, flows with the same and constant speed. But you must have noticed that sometimes time flies, and sometimes it drags on. Lifehacker tells why this is happening.

What is social time

Social time is a concept of understanding time in social sciences and philosophy. This term was proposed in 1937 by sociologist Pitirim Sorokin who emigrated to the United States from Russia and Robert Merton, professor at Columbia University. Today their research has become classics of sociology.

Social time is different from astronomical time. It is based not on the cycles of motion of the planets and stars, but on changes in society that occur at the will of man. That is, it is measured not by units of duration (minute, hour, year), but by such abstract measures as epoch, generation, life.

Social time reflects not how long an event lasts, but how its duration is felt. For example, an hour and a half lecture may seem to us unbearably long, but the whole life lived up to this moment is an instant. Because of this, social time is often correlated with psychological - individual perception of duration. But social time, according to the researchers, is also the “time of society” - a reaction to the flow of events taking place within the boundaries of a country, community or family.

In our daily activities, we often use so-called points in time. "Soon after World War", "I'll meet you after the concert", "When President Hoover came to power": all this has more to do with social than with astronomical framework, and it is necessary to indicate specific moments - "when …".

Pitirim Sorokin Robert Merton

Social time does not flow evenly from the past to the future. Depending on the frequency of events, it can speed up or slow down. This can be influenced by what day it is - a weekend or a weekday, whether it was successful or, conversely, brought disappointment. The faster society changes, the faster social time flows.

Why social time is accelerating

According to Ph. D. Farkhad Ilyasov, social time always reflects a person's “personal” time. If it seems to him that in a unit of duration he receives a lot of information, he has the feeling that minutes and hours pass faster - and vice versa. Think about how it feels when you are busy with something (for example, work) and when you have to do nothing (sit in line, wait for the bus). Also, the perception of time depends on age. For example, children record fewer phenomena because they still know little about the world. Therefore, time for them feels slower.

Technological progress increases the amount of information

In the past, changes in the social structure and life took place slowly, to the point that people might not even notice them. A medieval man could be born and die under the same king, and in the hinterland at times they did not even know that the power had changed. A modern resident of a developed country is born under one president, goes to school under another, goes to college under a third, and has a family under a fourth. At the same time, life expectancy also grows, and the longer we live, the more events we perceive.


Life expectancy of people in 1800 / Max Roser / Wikimedia Commons


Life expectancy of people in 1950 / Max Roser / Wikimedia Commons


Life expectancy of people in 2015 / Max Roser / Wikimedia Commons

That progress is accelerating can be seen from the length of periods in human history. The antique lasted one and a half thousand years, the medieval - about a thousand, the new time - 300 years, the newest - the century, and the modern postmodern era has existed for no more than 30 years and at the same time is constantly changing.

Social time depends on the progress of computing power
Social time depends on the progress of computing power

The spread of technology leads to the fact that information is transmitted faster, a person travels long distances, daylight hours lasts longer thanks to electricity. The number of events occurring at a given time is growing.

Only 200 years ago, ships crossed the Belkin S. I. Blue Ribbon of the Atlantic. Leningrad, 1990 Atlantic Ocean in 15 days, today liners are able to do this in 3.5 days. And by plane you will get there in 8 hours. Technologies are rapidly replacing each other, and today a person is forced to learn and retrain throughout his life.

The more information we receive, the faster it seems to us the passage of time

As mentioned above, progress leads to the fact that the density of events for one interval of astronomical time increases significantly. However, time itself flows in the same way. The more events occur, the more information enters the human brain, as a result, the load on it increases.

The person is constantly in the multitasking mode and the need to meet deadlines. Interruptions in the perception of information are reduced or disappear altogether. We are forced to abandon time-consuming activities in favor of those that save minutes and hours.

Professor of the University of Leeds (UK) Zygmunt Bauman in his book "Fluid Modernity" writes that in modern society, time is inextricably linked with competition, competition, domination, manipulation and power. The desire for success, according to the author's concept, encourages people to "run in step", not agreeing with their capabilities. Therefore, according to Bauman, time is compressed to moments.

A person's ability to perceive information is rather limited

In 1956, Harvard psychologist George Miller published the results of an experiment he conducted with his students. The teacher asked the subjects to repeat sequences of numbers, letters or words immediately after he called them, and after a short period of time. In this way, Miller figured out how much information the average person can remember at a time.

It turned out that people's short-term memory is able to “write down” 7 ± 2 units of information (nine binary digits, seven letters of the alphabet, five monosyllabic words) immediately after the brain receives them. This amount of data ranges from 9 to 50 bits (although it is incorrect to measure human memory in this way).

Based on mathematical information theory, MIT professor Douglas Robertson measured D. S. Robertson Information Revolution / Information Revolution: Economics, Technology. M., 1993 the average volume of information produced by a person - from the inception of communication between people to the emergence of the Internet. The researcher came to the conclusion that in the early stages of history this number was 107-109 bits, and in the era of the information society it grew to 1,025 bits.

Robertson published his research back in the 1990s. Since that time, the amount of information available to humans has grown millions of times. In 2016-2018 alone, Marr B. How Much Data Do We Create Every Day? The Mind-Blowing Stats Everyone Should Read. Forbes 90% of all data in the world already calculated in zettabytes 1 zettabyte = 1021 byte. - Approx. the author.

The amount of information we consume will continue to grow. Some researchers believe that this can lead to the appearance in a person of information oversaturation and anxiety, distracted attention syndrome, and memory problems.

However, even Socrates, who lived almost two and a half thousand years before the digital age, considered Shishkoedov P. N. The philosophy of antiquity. M., 2015, that books impair memory and make people addicted. He did not write anything down, and only thanks to his students we know about the ideas of the ancient thinker. So we may still be able to adapt to the ever-increasing volume of data.

How accelerating social time affects our lives

Time pressure and stress increases

The acceleration of social time gives rise to one of the paradoxes of our time: the development of society and technology, in theory, should have freed up a certain amount of time for us, but at the same time the feeling of lack of it is growing.

Modern man is forced to do everything on the run and under the continuous bombardment of huge amounts of data. Information noise plays a special role here - most messages from the outside world are not important to us or have little significance, so the brain has to filter them. We need to make decisions, take actions and do it as quickly as possible.

This can be compared to the situation when you are traveling with your child on the bus, at the same time answering a work letter and paying for travel, and then you get a call from the bank. Natural companions of such situations are fatigue, tension of attention and the need to constantly be focused.

What to do

  1. Calm down: it is unrealistic to be in time for everything, and to be late in some way is normal. On weekends, do without deadlines, take a break from the lack of time. Try to surf the internet less. Go for a walk - just take a walk, not take a photo for Instagram. Take up a hobby: for example, play the guitar or learn it if you wanted to.
  2. Find a way to effectively manage your time on weekdays. For example, you can learn to focus on the essentials. In general, try to give up everything that is superfluous.
  3. Read news and social media feeds less. You have your own life, focus on it.
  4. Apply time management and productivity techniques.

There is a desire to give up everything

Information overload and a hectic pace of life are some of the main reasons people leave well-paid jobs and move to downshifting. The "boredom of life" without adventure, disappointment and anomie (a state of uncertainty and instability) are characteristic of Vostal F. Towards a social theory of acceleration: Time, modernity, critique. European Journal of Social Sciences for Contemporary Urban People. Tired of stress, bustle and stuffy office, they go in search of "real" life.

Philip Vostal in his article Vostal F. Towards a social theory of acceleration: Time, modernity, critique. The European Journal of Social Sciences gives an example. Young scientists come to the research team. More and more publications are expected from them, as this increases their value in the labor market. As a result, novice researchers who would like to work in science, but cannot meet these expectations, experience depression and feelings of guilt, and a reluctance to stay in the profession.

What to do

  1. Consider if you really want to send everything to hell. It is easy to post photos from different parts of the world with captions like "This is real life!" In reality, one has to think not only about satisfying aesthetic needs and one's ego, but also about food, housing and the future. Explore ways to keep you motivated - it may not be all that bad.
  2. Try taking a long vacation. This will allow you to feel yourself in a new role, to understand what it is like to live without tedious work and responsibilities.
  3. Well, if you really want to and you are absolutely sure that you are ready to escape from a stuffy office, go to a remote village or travel, not knowing where you will find an overnight stay today, go for it, because nothing works only with someone who does nothing.

Live communication is dwindling

The era of digitalization has transferred many aspects of our life - communication, work, education, entertainment - to the Internet. This inevitably leads to the fact that offline social interaction is reduced and fizzled out.

Recently, there has even appeared such a term as touch hunger (or skin deprivation), which can be translated as "lack of bodily contact." This is especially noticeable now, when many are forced to abandon offline because of the pandemic. Think about how long ago you communicated with friends or parents not by phone or in instant messengers. Research shows Floyd K. Relational and Health Correlates of Affection Deprivation. Western Journal of Communication, that due to touch hunger, the hormone cortisol begins to be intensively produced, which leads to the development of stressful conditions.

What to do

  1. Learn to fight against smartphone addiction: use special applications that allow you to analyze your actions, block notifications and calls; disable unnecessary notifications; remove useless services.
  2. Do not let online interfere with live communication: at the table, in bed or in a meeting, turn off the sound and move the phone away, do not answer messages and calls during a conversation.
  3. Find opportunities to spend time with friends and family. Work and the Internet cannot replace them.

The accelerating pace of life is becoming our daily routine. At the same time, time accelerates only in our consciousness. It remains only to learn to live with it.