the fo­rum

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Deirdre Macken macken.deirdre@gmail.com

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

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