Timescapes of the Network Society
Since the late '70s, the mutually reinforcing interaction between neoliberal economics and the revolution in information and communication technologies (ICTs) has transformed the world in many ways. "Globalization" is what we have come to call this process, and many aspects of its profound effect have been analyzed from a range of perspectives (e.g. Appadurai 1990; Robertson 1993; Omahe 1993; Waters 1995; Bauman 1998; Steger 2003). This paper discusses a central element of this change through globalization that has so far received relatively little attentionour relationship with time and how this is changing, in turn, the nature of power and politics. More particularly, it looks at these changing dynamics of time, power and politics through the nexus between neoliberalism and the ICT revolution and the emergent network society that this process has created.
Time in Theory
Until recently, the study of time in the social sciences and social theory has suffered a more generalized neglect; it has tended to occupy a peripheral role as a method through which modernity was understood. In other words modernity has not been analyzed systematically from what Barbara Adam calls a "temporalized perspective" (2003). Marx, for example, did not articulate an explicit theory of time and wrote only sporadically about the role of the clock in the commodification of labour (see Lukacs, 1990: 89-91). In the 20th century Lewis Mumford did in fact see the clock as "central to the Industrial Revolution" but this was in the context of a discussion on the general role of technology and technical systems, not temporality per se (1934/1967:14). Social historians such as E.P. Thomson (1967/1993:352-403) likewise attributed a good deal of importance to the clock as a transformative technology in the context of an unfolding modernity. However, it is viewed principally as a rationalizing technique of worker "time discipline" and not as a way to understand what this temporal domination may mean for the diversity of human time reckoning prior to their colonization by the industrial logic of the clock.
Paul Virilio, in his more speculative social theory of temporality, concentrates on the (very real) effects of speed and velocity in politics and in social life (Virilio 1986; 2000). Others have grappled with how our time-space horizons are being drastically curtailed in the era of "flexible accumulation." David Harvey, for example, in his Condition of Postmodernity (1989) sensed that our relationship with time and space were undergoing profound change due to the revolutions of neoliberalism and ICTs. He called this "time-space compression" and, tantalizingly, writes that it will "revolutionize the objective qualities of space and time [so] that we are forced to alter…how we represent ourselves to the world" (1989: 240). Unfortunately, however, Harvey fails to do full justice to this claim and concentrates his theoretical explorations much more upon the spatial dimension at the expense of the temporal. The "rapidity of time," as he terms it, makes it difficult to "react to events" (1989:305-6), but the analysis does not proceed much beyond this fairly obvious conclusion, and discussion on ways to locate in theory and harness in practice the "objective quality" of postmodern time is not attempted. In fairness, Harvey was writing in the opening phases of the transition from Fordism to network-based flexible accumulation, and his undoubted prescience should not be expected to achieve total perspicacity.
The changing temporal organization of everyday life within the postmodern network society is the key issue this article seeks to examine. To explore this question more fully, some central questions need to be considered. These are: how do we experience time? What is the nature of time in the network society? How does it contrast and compare with our relationship with clock time, an abstract and empty social construction that has dominated our relationship with time since the industrial revolution? And, finally, what does what I term "network time" portend for what Barbara Adam (1998) terms "timescapes"times that interpenetrate and permeate our lives but have been displaced, marginalized and sublimated by industrial clock time? Let us begin with some grounding perspectives on time from recent social theory.
Timescapes in Social Life
How do we experience time? Today from most people the question would elicit a negative answer. We are "pressed" for it; our time is "squeezed" to the point where we have little left to ourselves, and so forth. Beyond this generalized frustration with "it," most of us delve no further into its naturejust like the ever more complex realms of modern life, we feel there's simply "no time" to go into such matters. However, a diversity of time(s) or temporalities are immanent in both humans and nature. Potentially, we can experience and live in an interconnecting multiplicity of times that can combine in an endlessly complex but ultimately unified temporal whole. As I said, Adam has called these temporal dimensions "timescapes." But what are these timescapes? Unfortunately, modern English is a limited tool with which to describe, accurately, these immanent temporalities that we barely understand and so much more work needs to be done to overcome this. Perhaps an easily comprehended way to think about timescapes is to think of an array of temporal featuresflowing durational "scapes"that exist in lived reality, in us, in our cultures and in nature. Each feature, or temporal scape is implicated in all the others but not necessarily of equal importance. Context is the "now" or the "present." It is the intersecting point of contact between the different timescapes that touch our livesor those timescapes that we ourselves bring to a context or situation to generate a uniquely experienced timescape. As Christopher Prendergast puts it: "What we call 'the present' is a dynamic cluster of temporal traces, of the past it has been and the future it is in the process of becoming" (2003:99). What we create and experience in "the present" is, in effect, a timescape that is part of a socially constituted temporal whole, part of what is to be alive in a becoming and emergent social world.
Adam (2004) has succeeded in stretching the capacity of the language towards a useful taxonomy of the timescapes in humans and in nature. She argues that timescapes comprise such things as "tempo," which is speed, pace, intensity; "timing," which is synchronization; "time point" which is moment, now, instant, juncture; "time patterns" which is rythmicity, periodicity, cylicality; and "time extensions" which are duration, length, continuity. These temporalities are context- and culture-generated and are subject to constant change through the diversity of human circumstances.
For the peoples and cultures of pre-modernity, the diversity of temporalities were lived and experienced more directly, through less forms of mediation. Like breathing, they were explicit elements of life. People experienced them more proximately because they were creating their own living timescapes just as much as they produced their own forms of space, or landscapes (Lefebvre 1991; Gosden 1994). It was noted that timescapes are profoundly social and cultural. They are also dialectical, emerging as practices through our interaction with each other and with the natural and built environments. As archeologist Christopher Gosden (1994: 34-5) put it:
People create time and space through their actions. Time and space, in turn, become part of the structure of habitual action, shaping the nature of reference between actions.
These took as many forms as there were social and cultural contexts to generate them, across the millennia and across the world. Timescapes could be cyclical, involving seasons, or rebirth; they could comprise linear conceptions of past, present and future; they could be cosmic, taking time patterns from the heavens; they could be "static" in that, through myth and ritual, cultures would seek to "arrest time" (Adam 2004). Or they could indicate an absence of time coupled, paradoxically, with its profound immanence, as found in elements of Zen Buddhism. For example, as American poet Robert Haas (1994: xi) has argued, the aim of the poetry of 17th century haiku master Matsuo Basho was to express that: "every moment is eternal; or, every moment of time is all time; therefore time doesn't exist." Moreover, these timescapes do not exist in isolation from each otherthey "interpenetrate and permeate" the lives of their creators and experiencers (Adam 1995:12) in the ongoing evolution of culture- and context-generated timescapes. In pre-modernity these dynamics gave a diverse temporal dimension to whole ways of life, to ways of thinking (knowledge production), and how we express this through language and writing; and these, in their turn, also reflected the immanent temporalities through the communication of changes in tense and so on. In short, they provided the means to orient the individual and group temporally in the world and to give meaning to their place within it.
Potential Time and Power Time
I said previously that we "potentially" are able to experience these immanent timescapes, and create an infinite diversity of others through culture and context. It is my contention that we still only vaguely intuit the timescapes of nature, of culture, of context and of our own biology, because they have been sublimated, displaced and dominated, to an ever-increasing degreesince at least the end of the Middle Agesby industrialized clock time. From our contemporary perspective, it is difficult to appreciate the extraordinary effect that clock time has had upon modern and modernizing societies. And it is difficult to remember, so deeply has its logic impregnated cultures and societies, that it is not "time" at all but a social construction given the seal of scientific truth and validity through the revolution in Newtonian physics. According to this mathematical perspective, time exists not in nature and humans, but that these exist in time. Newton put the case famously in his 1687 Principia when he wrote that: "Absolute true and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature, flows equably without relation to anything external." He regarded moments of absolute time as moments that follow a continuous linear sequence. The rate at which these moments succeeded one another is independent of the universe and its processes (Whitrow 1972:128-9). The most powerful legacy of Newton's work was that it gave an abstract, mathematical and mechanistic foundation to perceptions of how the natural world and its place in the universe are constituted. Indeed, in keeping with the emerging thought of Enlightenment philosophy that advocated rational science and technological development as evidence of human progress, the machine, and in particular the clock, became a metaphor for the world and its logical, harmonious ordering. Clock time, then, from the perspective of modern social theory, reveals itself as a social creation, a figment of Enlightenment philosophy purporting to represent scientific actuality. Like the ill-fated Jacobin ten-day week that was legislated for during the early phase of the French Revolution, the clock is an abstract symbol for time; it is rationality pushed to an extreme, and an attempt at a machinic (clockwork) metering of the unruly and diverse timescapes that exist in humans and in nature.
However, clock time doesn't feel extreme, so inured to it have we become; so deeply has it infused our cultures and societies. This is because clock time, the revolutions in science and technology, and the capitalist system of production were mutually dependent factors in the industrialization process and the creation of modernity. These formidable logics came together in their most world-changing form through what Marx called "commodity production" and were expressed most succinctly in Benjamin Franklin's lapidary phrase "time is money" (Hassan 2003). The meter of the clock as scheduler and organizer of everyday life struck deeper and deeper into the world's cultures and societies as capitalism spread and suffused modernity in its wake. As the power of the clock grew, so too did the displacement, colonization and sublimation of the ever-changing, ever-fluid timescapes of millennia. The generation of potential time into actually lived timescapes through culture and context were increasingly thwarted by the power time of capitalist industrialism. Time metamorphosed in human experience from the local and the diverse, to the universal scope, the unerring meter and the undifferentiated context. This transformation was necessary to the world-historical mission of "commodity production" and the global rule of capital. As Éric Alliez put it: "only abstract time can ensure an effective function of capitalization" (1996:154). The time of the clock (relatively quickly) became what we perceived as time and experienced as time and what governed temporal life. In other words, a mechanized device that was imbued with transcendental significance, replaced the human and natural timescapes that has evolved over thousands of years. As clock time sublimated the timescapes of culture and context, it began to reshape modes of thoughts, ways of seeing and ways of perceiving the world. "Other" times became gradually relegated to the status of things we vaguely and inexplicably intuit. We see this meagerness of temporal perception in modernity through what Michael Flaherty calls "folk theory" or culturally bound ways of understanding the interpenetration of differing timescapes. For example, how is it, we have asked ourselves for millennia, that time seems to pass quickly when enjoying oneself, and "drags" when bored? Or does it? Flaherty shows how the logic of "folk theory" can easily be reversed in "highly eventful circumstances" such as in combat or in a traffic accident, where split-second events seem to last forever, the "my whole life flashed before my eyes" scenario that many people experience (1999: 21-22).
Over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the rhythm of the clock has become so much part culture and society that we could hardly describe it in separation from other modes of life. It buries our relationship with these "other" times and frustrates a deeper understanding of them. The abstraction, to paraphrase Jürgen Habermas (1987:336), had become real.
Nonetheless, domination by the régime of clock time does not indicate that the times of pre-modern societies have to be seen as analytically and anthropologically distinct from those of modern ones. In both epochs the relationship with time are marked by complexity and potentiality. The critical difference is that in modern societies, as I have argued, a growing complexity of temporalities has become problematic and that time potentiality has been sublimated. As Alliez puts it "potential time" has been colonized (or as he more strongly puts it) "conquered," by "power time" (1996: xv). The process of colonization, however, does not mean that these timescapes have been nullified and voided by industrial power time. In society their presence is being constantly felt.
We can see this on the structural level, where the unerring meter of clock time that is necessary for the functioning of capitalism (and the clock time metering of cultures and societies to facilitate this) continually clashes with the timescapes of both humans and natureoften to catastrophic effect. The logic of capital and the clock constantly seek to synchronize the fluid and emerging temporal worlds of humanity and nature to its own measurethat of control, commodity and rationality. Harmeet Sawhney put the argument succinctly when he wrote, "[the] bygone world was a world of rhythms. Today, we live in a world of [attempted] synchronization" (2004:360). The differing timescapes in biology, in chemistry, in all organic life and in the environment, conflict with a rigidly clock-entimed capitalism. The result is a "dischrony" that underscores what Ulrich Beck terms the "risk society" (1992). For example, we saw the effects of dischrony and risk recently and horribly in the slow-paced eruption of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) disease in Britain in the 1990s (Adam, 1999). Here, the unchanging temporal imperatives of industrial agribusiness (acceleration, commodification, optimization) clashed with those of human and animal biology, rendering, so to speak, BSE an "invisible" risk that came to light only when the damage forced its way onto the scientific gaze and (later) a horrified public consciousness. A major consequence of this dischrony is that an increasingly complex industrial society is quite literally laying "time bombs" that will "explode" in times that are governed by the precise nature of the timescapes involved in the process. We can continue this literalism to furnish other illustrations. For example, the laying of landmines brings the open ended, complex and fluid timescapes of war (politics, ideology, weather, tactics, etc) into dischrony with industrially-entimed munitions production. The result, inevitably, is that war will end at some unknown point in the future, a point which the bomb makers must over-compensate for, ensuring that people will continue to be at risk from death and dismemberment for long after the timescapes of the conflict has passed. A similar logic is in operation in the manufacture of weapons-grade plutonium-293 for nuclear bombs. The Cold War, which triggered this process, lasted about fifty years (it could have lasted five, or five-hundred). Plutonium-293, however, will remain radioactive and lethal for about twenty-four thousand years.
This clash of human, biological, chemical and environmental timescapes with that of industrialized clock time ensures an increasingly risk-prone society. As industrialized society becomes more complex, then so too will the risk factor continue to increase. This is inevitable unless the time of the clock and capitalism can harmonize (work in cooperation with, not to seek control over) the deeper timescapes in nature and in humans. The emergence and potential of what I've termed network time may be one alternative to this increasingly problematic dischrony.
At first glance "network time" does not seem too promising a basis upon which to pin one's hopes for our rediscovery of the diversity of times and rhythms that comprise the sublimated timescapes of modernity. Network time sometimes acts as a supposed synonym for the much more widely used term "real time," and this is usually associated with the technical obsession with temporal acceleration. These terms are differentiated, because I argue that "real time" is a fundamental misnomer, and that an understanding of what "network time" is opens up many more temporal possibilities. So let us briefly concentrate on the inapplicability of "real time" to describe temporality in the network society. Computer programmers and systems designers coined the term to describe operating systems that could respond at high-speed to the input of data. The computer technicians' online dictionary of Internet terms defines real time as something "occurring immediately"; and on a surface level at least, this is how most people would conceive of real-time. However, this generalized definition, stemming as it does from a technical perspective, sheds little light on the social, cultural and temporal implications that "occurring immediately" may signify. Michael Heim, in his The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality, gives a more intriguing definition. He writes that real-time is "Simultaneity in the occurrence and the registering of an event, sometimes called synchronous processing…" (1993: 157). This represents a significant shift from the technical definition. "Immediately" connotes a brief temporal lag (be it measured in minutes, seconds, or even nanoseconds), whereas "simultaneity" suggests "happening at the same time," a canceling-out of temporal duration between events. Simultaneity implies, then, a non-time, the shattering, or voiding, or "death" of time. A problem here is that social theorists and the media more generally, have taken the technician's term of indicating something that happens in digitally compressed clock time (fast, but still multi-durational, multi-patterned, etc.) and implicitly or explicitly take it to mean no time. For example, Castells, in his 1996 book The Information Age: The Rise of the Network Society argues that globalization and the information age are heralding the era of domination by real-time, or what he calls "timeless time." Real time, for Castells, is also a kind of "non-time" which means that as the network society becomes more encompassing of culture and society, "linear, measurable, predictable time is being shattered…in a movement of extraordinary historical significance" (p433). In his speculative social theory, Paul Virilio is even more explicit when he writes in that "the teletechnologies of real time…are killing 'present' time by isolating it from its here and now, in favour of a commutative elsewhere that no longer has anything to do with our "concrete presence" in the world…"(1997: 10).
If we think about the nature of time, however, we can readily appreciate that the concepts of "timeless time" or of the "killing" of time, make no sense at all. Ontologically it is an impossibility. We are temporal beings living in a temporal environmentwhether inside or outside the network. Temporal durations, patternings, rythmicities, suffuse everything, from the rapid heartbeat of a fetus in the womb to the several years it takes the oyster to grow its pearl from a grain of sand. Like trying to imagine "time before time began," i.e., before the Big Bang fifteen billion years ago, we evolved anthropologically and culturally ill-equipped to think in such terms. We may more readily appreciate the absurdity of simultaneous real time if we think about our own involvement with the network society. Think of the Internet. Its technical capacities and our own human capabilities ensure that this is an inherently asynchronous space. Nothing occurs instantaneously, or in real time. There is an open-ended spectrum of temporalities within the network, measured from a picosecond (one trillionth of a second) upwards. For example, we can flash an email across the world in seconds or minutes, and then wait for an unknowable period for a reply. This could come in seconds, minutes, hours, days, or never. Networks can fail, they can slow down or speed up; we could be using state-of-the-art technology, or an old 486 PC and a dial-up modem. The multiform temporal dimensions that we are able to create, at least in potential, in the Internet, has led Lee and Liebenau to note, "…we can regard the experience of using the Internet as one of pseudo-instantaneous access" (2000: 51).
One of the most significant developments in the evolution of the network society is that through our use of ICT technologies in more and more realms of life, we are creating a digitally based, spatial and temporal ecology. Through the Internet, through mobile phones, through PDAs, email, digital video and through a rapidly increasing density of interconnectivity by new applications and devices that appear almost every month, we are continually creating a diversity of spaces and times. These are network spaces and network times, for ourselves and for others to share. Just like the landscapes and timescapes created by humans in pre-modernity in the construction of their own context-dependent cultures and societies, contemporary denizens of the network construct their own information-based ecology. Network time is a digitally compressed clock time, a "chronoscopic time," (see Hassan 2003) but it is a time that has exploded into a million different time fractions, as many time fractions as there are users with ICT applications, in the amorphous and constantly emerging network ecology. This is where the important break with the analogue meter of the clock occurs. Clock time has been made digital by computer technology and set loose in the creation of fluid networks of social interaction. In short, computing, the emergence of the network, and the actions of human agency have subverted the basis upon which the mechanical clock shaped and synchronized the modern world.
Technological developments promise to make this temporal transformation even more profound. For example, advances in nanocomputing, biocomputing and quantum computing techniques have challenged both the scale and the very basis upon which computing is predicated, and is set to make computing and the role of computers in life even more ubiquitous. Not only ubiquitous, but literally part of culture, society and the physical body. Nanocomputing is the construction of computing at the nanoscale (nanometer is one billionth of a meter, or one hundred-thousandth the width of a human hair). Working at this level, scientists at Bell Labs in the US have already constructed a transistor that is 50,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair (Brumfeil 2001). Shrinking down silicon chips in scale has physical limitations, of course, but this is being tackled through research in biocomputing, where computers are able to function like living organisms at the molecular or chemical level, obviating the need for silicon-based technology altogether. And spanning both these developments is the research in quantum computing. Here the whole basis upon which digital computing is founded (the binary logic of ones and zeros, on and off) is being changed. Working at the quantum level, where the classical laws of physics don't hold, engineers have discovered that in a quantum computer, classical binary logic operates simultaneously at both one and zero, on and offat a state they call a superpositionwhich constitutes a fundamental revolution in the basic nature of information processing. Through these kinds of advances, the cyborg dream of Nicholas Negroponte (1995) to blend "bits with atoms" i.e., the fusing of computers with humans, seems to be a fast-approaching reality. Indeed, in 2001, Negroponte's brainchild, the MIT Media Lab, with funding from the American National Science Foundation, set up the Center for Bits and Atoms with the explicit aim to "explore how the content of information relates to its physical representation, from atomic nuclei to global networks" (MIT News, 2001).
Let us pause to summarize thus far. It is clear that through the information technology revolution something exceptional has occurred to the foundations of our modern relationship with time. Through ubiquitous computing and ever more dense levels of interconnectivity, the network society has evolved. This is both extraordinary and unprecedented, as it constitutes the creation (at least in potential) of a network environment; a network ecology that contains its own digitally created spaces and times. The evolution of asynchronous network time has meant that for the first time since the beginning of the industrial revolution, humans are able to create and experience timescapes that are not synchronized to, or sublimated by, the logic of the clock. This process is set to become yet more profound through developments in advanced computing. Humans, as active agents in an amorphous and emergent network ecology, will potentially be able to create their own timescapes. These will not be based upon or dominated by the abstract logic of the mechanical clock, but will be an asynchronous temporality that is predicated upon the interaction of innate human timescapes coupled (literally, as the active research into Negropontean cyborg theory shows) with molecular level computing.
Millions of people across the world who are part of the network society are already creating their own spaces and their own times, in their work, leisure and in interaction with each other in everyday life. However, the timescapes of genuine diversity of the kind Adam has cogently written are still immanent within the network society, not actually existing as real practice. Potential time has yet to overcome the domination of capitalist power time. But as I will argue, the "power-geometry" of space and time are in a state of deep flux at present, and historic opportunities present themselves for a social and cultural revolution in the dimensions of space and time in the network ecology. In these final two sections I will lay out the scope of the problem as well as the range of opportunities that are available for humans to overcome the domination of the clock and to recover and create anew the experience of diversity of timescapes that are immanent in both us, and the environments with which we interact .
The Temporal Geometry of Power in