Just Because / Research

Time No Longer Matters?

I teach and research in the field of media studies in Australia and was intrigued  recently when I saw the following ad on New Zealand television

Time, according to this ad, no longer matters. Neither the dawning of the day, playtime or the ocean tides were regulated by time any longer. It no longer matters because there has been ‘a shift in power’ because the Sky Channel allows viewers to choose what to view, when and how. Late at night, slow motion, fast foward, the linearity of time no longer applies because with the help of the remote control, viewers can manipulate the temporal flow to their hearts’ content.

Of course, the ad exaggerates for effect but I was struck by the ad for 2 reasons. 1) it has long been argued that new media, ala the internet has warped/extended/altered our sense of time because of the multiple locations and temporalities it allows us to inhabit and 2) because of my own experiences with the regulating power of time and the liberatory effects of extended daylight hours this year. Let me tell you about the latter and return to the former later.

2012 has been a year of time-shifting experiences beginning with one summer in the northern hemisphere and another in the southern hemisphere just a few days ago. July saw me in the city of Utrecht, Netherlands walking around in what is essentially daylight at 10pm, feeling safe and secure wandering the streets of a foreign city on my own. Not something I do a lot of when travelling. I found myself more productive in the evening hours than I usually am even though by nature I am a night owl and work best at night, summer or winter. The longer daylight hours also made it possible to fit in many more leisure activities in the evenings, no small bonus for a first-time visitor to the Netherlands.

At last! I thought I could empathise with the distinct change that comes over northern hemisphere friends and colleagues in summer and, by inference, the lethargy that besets them in winter. How could one be anything but energised by the brightness and optimism of days unencumbered by the need to rush and get the most of every hour before the light fades? Yes, summer in the northern hemisphere is something that has to be experienced to be understood.

In Australia where I’ve lived for the last 15 years we imagine ourselves to be the ones down under, the true antipodeans. But just how different things could be if we were sited a few degrees further south in latitude was brought home to me a few days ago during my year-end vacation in New Zealand. There, I experienced a similar if polar opposite, southern hemisphere summer in Queenstown, New Zealand during the tail end of 2012.

Again, I was struck by the effects the lengthened days had on myself and family. Dinner at 8.30pm, unheard of in our household where one of us starts work at 6am, 6 days a week!  Not being an outdoors person, my delight did not euphoric heights but nonetheless long walks and lazy cricket-watching afternoons, unhurried coffee breaks and simply being became de rigeur.

It is possible to see my experience as simply the consequence of being on vacation but having worked through to 10pm and later whilst in Utrecht on university business, I don’t think that it was the lifting of work stress that brought about the lightening of my heart. More likely, as I have always argued contra Castell’s ‘timeless time’ is the effect that daylight had on my being. Gifted with extra daylight by virtue of location, I revelled in the expanded ‘doing-time’ available. Researching, working or holidaying, the activities were not the issue, the mind-space and body-time the light brought made the pace of life lengthen.

This brings me back to my other point, spatio-temporalities multiplied by new media ala Sky in New Zealand. It’s be foolish to argue here that the linearity of time is immutable. Way before new media, memories, books, (oral) histories, films and the imagination have enabled time to be brought back, forward and held motionless. In one sense, time has always been an internalised concept, more of the mind than body.

Nonetheless, it was my experience that the longer hours of daylight had the effect of relaxing the body, warming it and accustomising me and those around me to a more leisurely rhythm. Hebri Lefebvre wrote of rhythm as shaping human experience and that was indeed the case for me twice over this year. Along with the lengthened summer days experienced this year, what shifted for two blessed periods was the rhythm of life, working or vacationing, sleeping or walking, it mattered not. The tempo slowed from a brisk allegro to a leisurely lento. Tasks were still completed and to-do lists did not disappear but they were tackled with a different attitude, born of a different beat. Would that one could continue to hear the refrain of that measured pace.


I'm a research fellow at an Australian university where I work on a number of projects. These include projects to do with new media and migration and the Chinese diaspora in Australia, projects on the Malaysian internet, ethno-religious issues in Singapore and Malaysia. And, before I forget many of the photos I use on this site were taken by my sister, Jessie and myself. All rights are reserved.