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Social technology and the hidden dimension of time

By Rhizome

Anthony Giddens, British sociologist and one of my long-time personal guiding lights, has characterized the primary interest of sociology as an effort “to explicate how the limitations of individual 'presence' are transcended by the 'stretching of social relations across time and space.' It' always seemed to me that the growing adoption of social technologies--like this very one here--into our communication practices (activities, coordination, exchange, commmerce, learning, etc.) serves as a direct reflection of this 'stretching of social relations across time and space.' I've felt that these technologies line a frontier defined by concerns that touch our society and culture deeply. And that our very proximity to one another is shaped and informed by our use of these technologies to conduct our lives in non face-to-face communications.

We often speak of proximity as a matter of space, of closeness, nearness, even touch. We've seen that distance collapse, foreshortened by the spin of a mouse on the point of a click. Who among us is not a click away? But interestingly, I think, the dimension that's transformed most by social media is time, not space. It's time in the sense that the duration, episode, and rhythm of our interactions with others is radically lightened by social technologies, faciliated by a medium that has no 'there' there, presented but not with a deep presence. It's a strange thing, this discontinuous time of media. Things happen, but are not tied together, perhaps because we have such difficulty negotiating our availability and thus presence to others. Interruptions occur so frequently they become a continuity in and of themselves. We'll have 16 tracks of conversation going but at different time signatures, and our presence to and in all of them will feel more fragmented than whole.

I don't know what a p2p take on temporality might look like. I think the discipline is more inclined to spatial and visual maps and representations. But time and temporality are of paramount importance to production coordination, action sequencing and the organization of dependencies in the distribution of work, and so on. We have long departed from a simple 'serial' time and temporality. But might the organization of social relations by p2p not better accommodate time than it currently does?

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