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Time Design - Lost Hours

by Lukas Avenas 2 years ago in fact or fiction
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Research into how people experience time

Time Design - Lost Hours
Photo by noor Younis on Unsplash

It is important to understand that although we all seem to share common experiences of the world, in reality, we only gather information from our senses and then create a representation of the world inside our minds. This means that effectively, each of us lives inside our own parallel universe and proper communication about such subjects as “time” is impossible most of the time. This may be the problem that highlights the limitations of our languages and the obvious solution is to invest into other modes of expression and perception.

The problem is relevant today because the way humans communicate has obviously changed with the spread of social networks and smartphones, which are now an extension of our mind. We have heard of the negative effects that these new modes of communication have caused and there are movements, such as “time well spent” with Tristan Harris working on solving technical and psychological issues, but the larger underlying problem, which is just basic limits of our ability to express thoughts with language and to form a precise image in somebody’s mind, will remain for a very long time. It is important to recognize these limits and start conversations about things that we never knew affected our lives so much, so that eventually we can share ideas easier and find ourselves in a peaceful globalized society.

There are many ways of thinking about time, but 4 were selected for this work. These are the most common, the most different from each other and allows us to find ourselves in conversations about different and common aspects of our personalities that we never knew existed.

Linear time

The time of the western culture. Units of time are like small empty containers, constantly moving on a treadmill. Our job is to fill those containers with meaningful actions and if one container is left empty, it quickly moves towards the past and disappears into oblivion. We are never getting that one unit of time back and if actions taken do not improve our future, we feel like we haven’t done anything meaningful and talk about time being wasted. In fact, since time appears to be a valuable (and limited) resource, language of the people with this mindset, reflects how much it is considered a commodity. We speak about time being ‘given”, “saved”, “spent” and in most cases calculate our salary by the amount of time that has been spent working. “You can make more money, but you cannot make more time” is a common thing heard when talking with businessmen.

In linear time, people think much more about the future, than the past. Everything is scheduled, there is always one action to be done at the time and it is usually comparatively easy to know what the person is going to do at the exact point in time in the future if they share their schedule. Even relationships, vacations and sex are regulated by schedules.

The linear time system may cause more anxiety and make us value the past less, but after all, this is the system that gave us majority of great scientists, discoveries and technologies.

In this piece time units (cubes) are placed into a linear structure and as we try to place a new one, the old unit falls out and is lost forever.

Layered time

Every event consists of ceremonial sequence of action, done at certain speed and precision. Time at home and time at work may flow at a completely different pace as if moving to a different context or “layer” changes the actual flow of time. A factory worker may perform tasks with incredible speed and precision at work, but move and talk much slower at home. In western world it is often talked about how time appears to slow down or speed up, depending on our emotional involvement in activity, but in the case of layered time, activities simply have their own pace and that exact pace is the only correct way of doing those actions. A mandatory two minute exchange of business cards in business meetings, the requirement for school students to formally ask the teacher to begin the lesson and thank for the lesson when it is finished, are examples of how time is structured into stages that cannot be skipped or walked around.

In this piece seconds, minutes and hours are separated into different layers.

Cyclical time

There is no “much” or “little” time. There is just time – all of it. We can imagine time as a pool. All that happens, happens inside of it and we can walk around it, looking at events from different perspectives and learning from everything that has already happened, because it will inevitably happen again in some form. Unlike the cultures with linear time, it is less important to make decisions and give opinions quickly, on the spot. It is much more important to make the decisions “right” by carefully analyzing all of the context around the subject. Language in these cultures is also highly contextual. Words change meaning, depending on given situation, but more importantly, people usually talk “around the subject” rather than trying to define it precisely. It may seem vague and unprecise, but allows for much larger and more abstract ideas to be expressed, because they depend less on finding specific words.

In this piece a large black tube is hanging from the ceiling and small white hands of the clock are only visible by walking around the object. Only after the context is known, the time can be understood.

Polychronic time

Cultures where relationships between people are much more important than rigid structures of schedules and timetables. It is not uncommon for a seller to let his friend skip the line, because a line of people waiting is no different from a crowd. In fact even the languages of these cultures reflect how time is imagined as 3-dimentional structure with such sayings as “time is full”, instead of “time is long”. Actions are imagined as small units, that we put into a single large container and then draw these activities from this container. Activities in the container get mixed up and prioritization is based on the people around, rather than schedules. It is more important that something will be done and done in a friendly way, rather than completing action at a precise time. This may appear like chaos for those who think in linear time, but it is important to understand how much each life is interconnected with others in these cultures. These people are never alone, constantly speak about what happened to them and others, and because of that, everything that happens shakes the entire web of personal connections and affects each member, so if someone is late, the friends usually already know the reasons why they are late and never feel like the time is wasted by waiting, because they always have a large pool of activities to draw from.

In this piece the various units of time are placed on top of a weight scale. The more activities and actions a person has, the more time there is and the happier, fuller life one lives.

Conclusions so far

The project has raised many questions and discussions in the audience while in the gallery. It was enjoyable to see how highly abstract and deeply personal most conversations quickly became because of thoughts about subjective experience of time. Interaction with objects, text and schematic drawings were all a part of single experience and there was a lot of feedback about how most people don’t read text in galleries, but in this case, it was displayed in such an interesting way, that they ended up reading all of it.

I hope to continue working on objects that play with our perception of time and sense of self. I would also like to raise the following questions that were initiated by the research and feedback on “Lost hours” project:

Is it not the case that all of art is a tool for communication?

Is it not the case that all religions are communication systems for ideas that already existed at the time?

Is it not the case that majority of wars start because of different perspectives, rather than different opinions?

fact or fiction

About the author

Lukas Avenas

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