Minna’s post Fast Food Publishing about the pressure that the new media ecology is putting on the publishing industry as a whole to speed up production has gotten me thinking about the nature of time in a digital world more generally. Have the internet and other digital devices increased the speed at which we are expected to do things? (Probably, yes.) Such as: responding to a personal or business ‘letter’, or to a party invitation or telephone call, and publishing or releasing books / films / music. Or more expansively, today how is time organized in daily life and family life? What aspects are governed by “digital time” vs. by other parameters like the rhythm of night and day and of the seasons?

Bill McKibben’s book The Age of Missing Information (1992) is relevant to this question. McKibben writes evocatively about the kind of information that we now have access to in the “information age” – which at the moment he was writing was epitomized by TV, and now is only intensified by the internet – vs. the information that we do not have access to in this way of living.  That is, McKibben argues, although we know much more about world history, computers, cars and so on than our ancestors there are some things we know much less about. Almost any person 100 to 200 years ago, for example, would have known the ins and outs of the land where they lived perfectly: when growing seasons would begin and end, where to graze sheep or cattle, how long the nights vs. days would be.  Now much of the Western world spends a far greater percentage of their time in front of screens (TV, internet, mobile device) than outdoors.

While McKibben deals more with information than with time in his book he does discuss to time-related shifts – ones that would be worth further exploration.