FOR a generation reared on the expectation that everything would come ‘‘ in good time’’, it’s hard adjusting to the idea that everything should be ‘‘ in my time’’. If you spent a childhood hearing adults say they’d be there in good time, or the results would be known in good time or the Easter bunny would take his time, you got the message time was under the control of someone else (usually the adults pointing to their wristwatch).
So, it feels revolutionary to witness how control of time has switched from adults with wristwatches to anyone with smartphones, and the technology is not coincidental to this.
If you watch how younger people handle phone calls, you’ll get a good idea of how they’ve been able to wrest control of time. They don’t answer the phone. Instead, when their phone rings, they check to see who’s calling and then decide whether to answer straight away or call back later (if the caller isn’t identified, then forget about it).
This results in telephone tag as each person decides whether now is the perfect time to answer the phone, and eventually the phoneoff is resolved by a text. And if anyone is still surprised at how texting became so popular, it’s because it enables a person to reply — in my time. Phone companies are thrilled younger people consider answering a phone call a possibility rather than an imperative, but a lot of businesses are not impressed.
Last week the Free TV group began lobbying for an end to time-zone rules that push sex and violence to after-8.30pm slots. As the chief, Julie Flynn, said, ‘‘ Everyone is accessing TV when they want, what they want and on the devices they want.’’ The media is just discovering how much its lost control of the time. New media consumers podcast their favourite radio shows for later, catch up with news whenever they feel like clicking on and watch whatever TV series they like whenever they like. What’s a TV schedule, they’ll say.
Flynn’s comments about a time-zone freefor-all were an echo of the comment from a restaurant owner just a few weeks ago when he was explaining why Sydney’s degustation venues were closing down. ‘‘ We want to eat what we want to eat, when we want to eat it,’’ he said. But chefs lost control of the dining experience a while ago. Consider the number of people making multiple table bookings so they can decide on a restaurant at the last minute, or look at how many diners are choosing show-up-and-queue restaurants or bars with menu offerings.
In-my-time is rearranging many business models. The online shopping boom is as much about time control as cost advantages. The new generation of shopper wants to buy that dress when they’re lying in bed at 10pm or catching the bus at 7am and they want it in their colour and size, and at their price. The concept of waiting for a shop owner to open the door, or order the right size or hold an endof-season sale is anathema to the new shopper. Season, they say, what’s a season?
There are many concepts being wiped out by young people with smart devices. Think of the idea of publication date, of opening hours, of deadlines, of bookings, adult-time viewing or even that old stand-by, it’s a date.
It’s a date is more an opening line than something you can write in a diary. A date is something that will happen sometime on the weekend at a time to be fixed by a later call and at the closest of the three booked restaurants, and only if you don’t get a better offer in the meantime.
Suddenly, we’re all in a constant state of flux. We have an idea of what we’re going to do but everything is changeable, anything is possible and, chances are, the person who has all the time on their hands will be in charge.
We are multi-tasking our moments, rewriting schedules, going soft on commitments and making the future as fluid as possible. And, it is we who are doing it because young people with smart devices may have started it but we are all being sucked into the new ways of managing time. After all, you can’t have a phone conversation unless the other person picks up, and you can’t ask for certainty if everyone else is insisting on flexibility. Since Einstein, we’ve all been forced to realise time is relative. But now it’s also up for grabs, and chances are you aren’t in charge of it.
the sightgeist jon kudelka