‘time flows are rarely aligned between the different ‘players’, resulting in hidden tensions, impatience, token gestures, fragile decisions and fraught meetings. Calendar and clock time is used to co-ordinate the contributions of various stakeholders but this regulated time may not be a universal reflection of how community members perceive the way time flows through their lives, with its unpredictable eddies, pools and torrents.’
Alison’s paper prefaced the Temporal conflicts workshop in Manchester this week where we had a fascinating discussion of these and other issues. Referring to a neighbourhood where he’s worked with local people on a community garden, Ronnie Hughes highlighted the contrast between political (or developers’) time and residents’ ‘gardening’ time. And it doesn’t take long to pinpoint some of the other kinds of time, such as -
- children’s time
- car drivers’ or commuters' time
- older residents’ time
- environmental time
- internet time
- institutional time, and so on.
It would be hard to capture all the insights in the workshop around, for example –
acceleration, rhythms of everyday life (Marli Huijer), co-ordination, spontaneity, ‘the value of impatience’ (Jess Steele), routine, ‘meanwhile time’ (Katie Hill), the importance of incomers (Irene Evison), the analogy of dancing (Naimh Moore) as being required to keep the beat (ie consensus), chaos as a nuance of time (Jen Southern), the weakening of corporate memory in key agencies (Angus McCabe), animal and plant time (Chris Speed), letting things go and ‘moving on’ from the past (Alison Gilchrist), hegemonic time (Rob Trueblood), different kinds of ending (Graham Crow), how today’s stars in community action ‘can become tomorrow’s black holes’ (Mandy Wilson), and many more… (I hope my fellow participants will excuse any mis-attribution).
Accentuating the theme, all the presentations were tightly constrained five minute ‘lightning talks’. My own contribution, headed ‘Is internet time different?’ offered examples of the immediacy of online; the ways in which expectations in the timescales of agencies and residents are now sometimes reversed in the online world, with officials now sometimes struggling to keep up with local action; and the refreshed appeal of local history online.
I was the first speaker of the day, and got through breathlessly before the brutal buzzer sounded, by virtue of three double espressos, providing an experience of ‘caffeine time’. I could not resist misquoting the famous misquote of Pascal, 'I would have prepared a shorter talk, but I did not have the time'. My final slide showed a question from the 2010 Online neighbourhood networks study, in which we’d asked people if they agreed that in online forums ‘discussions sometimes move too quickly to allow proper reflection’. (For the record, only 30 per cent agreed or strongly agreed).
A key message from the workshop, for practitioners, is recognising these different experiences of time at the local level, and the ways in which their intersection sometimes causes conflict but sometimes creates benefits. The question arises, what are the options for social technologies in helping people deal with these multiple times?
I almost always enjoy sessions that bring academics and practitioners together. As I left hurriedly for another meeting, ha, I was reflecting on the etymology of the word ‘discourse’. Originally it meant running hither and thither, with an obsolete meaning (according to Merriam-Webster) of 'social familiarity'.