PRESENTISM

WE LIVE IN A WORLD WHERE WE WANT EV­ERY­THING NOW AND EV­ERY­THING HAP­PENS NOW – ON DE­MAND. TIME IS BE­ING DIS­TORTED. PRESENTISM IS A RE­SULT. IF YOU HAVE TIME, READ ON — WELL GO ON, START READ­ING, YOU HAVEN'T GOT ALL SEC­OND!

Plaza Watch International - - Presentism - WORDS: JOSH SIMS

HERE’S A BE­HAV­IOUR you may have ex­pe­ri­enced, may per­haps even be guilty of – Some friend or col­league re­quires a quick re­sponse from you re­gard­ing a cer­tain is­sue. Not long ago, they would have picked up the phone, the most im­me­di­ate form of long-dis­tance com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Now, in­creas­ingly, they send an email, in the ex­pec­ta­tion that it will be an­swered im­me­di­ately, rather than read only when one is good and ready – like old-fash­ioned pa­per mail. And this hap­pens all the more so be­cause what is a minute of typ­ing for a sender might open a Pan­dora’s in­box of hours of work for the re­cip­i­ent. The wide­spread belief now is that ev­ery­one spends their time fre­quently and spon­ta­neously break­ing away from re­al­ity to dip into the vir­tual, just in case some elec­tronic mis­sive is tug­ging at their sleeve, cry­ing out for at­ten­tion – which, of course, is pre­cisely what more and more of us do do. The smart phone: it is both com­pan­ion and curse. But what, at a more pro­found level, one beyond that of mere ir­ri­ta­tion, is go­ing on here? Some might call it ‘presentism’, oth­ers – no­tably the Amer­i­can big ideas in­tel­lec­tual Dou­glas Rushkoff, the lead­ing crit­i­cal thinker on the sub­ject – prefers the more hard­hit­ting ‘present shock’, named in as­so­ci­a­tion with Alvin Toffler’s book, Fu­ture Shock. The con­se­quences of the col­lapse of time, Rushkoff says, have never been more preva­lent in our lives. To the de­mand that an email be an­swered as soon as it ar­rives he even as­cribes a con­di­tion – akin to a med­i­cal con­di­tion that is – which he calls ‘digiphre­nia’: the panic that re­sults from the as­sault of in­for­ma­tion – whether that be via email, app,

feed or so­cial me­dia – and the seem­ing sense that one can’t keep up with it, un­der­pinned that is by the more wor­ry­ing sense that one even should. Con­stantly break­ing our at­ten­tion with real time, our pace of life – or, in a way, our two lives, one phys­i­cal, the other elec­tronic, a kind of Sec­ond Life made real – is dic­tated by tech­nol­ogy. The rich­ness of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing time as some­thing with mean­ing and pur­pose is con­stantly be­ing un­der­cut by keep­ing pace with a dig­i­tal time un­der­stood merely as pass­ing seconds, min­utes and hours. It is, if you like, the world of the watch – another piece of tech­nol­ogy that con­stantly re­minds us of the ar­ti­fi­cial di­vi­sions of the day, and in turn our lives – rather than that of the di­ary, with all that sug­gests of re­flec­tion on a life lived. If that sense of los­ing con­trol to an on­slaught of data – most of which would in­cur no penalty if ex­am­ined much later, or, in­deed, never ex­am­ined at all – is fa­mil­iar to you, then the other ways in which me­dia the­ory sug­gests tech­nol­ogy is shap­ing our sense of the present are even more disturbing. In­deed, if you buy into the the­ory, it’s spilling over into our very un­der­stand­ing of the world in ways that are, frankly, mind-blow­ing. A deep breath may be re­quired be­fore read­ing on... With an anal­ogy which watch fans might ap­pre­ci­ate, Rushkoff calls one pre­sen­tist symp­tom ‘over-wind­ing’ – our grow­ing habit of com­press­ing time and its con­se­quences into ever smaller scales in a bid to make the now re­spon­si­ble for ef­fects that ac­tu­ally take much longer real time to oc­cur, much as one might over-wind a watch in the hope that it can some­how com­press or store even more en­ergy than it phys­i­cally can. In tech’s in­stant ac­cess world, cul­ture is left thin and (less than) tem­po­rary, the weight of his­tory seems ir­rel­e­vant, the ram­i­fi­ca­tions for to­mor­row even less im­por­tant, and the now is given more sig­nif­i­cance than it ac­tu­ally has. We live in in­stan­ta­ne­ity, re­flected in the way we shop. For ex­am­ple, we click to buy now with de­liv­ery the same or next day, and lit­tle sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion or sat­is­fac­tion is able to build in be­tween. At­ten­tion Deficit Disorder is no longer a mal­ady con­fined to small boys, and they don’t typ­i­cally have smart phones – not yet any­way. When they do they will, like ‘present shocked’ grown-ups, fret when­ever WiFi is, in­com­pre­hen­si­bly, un­avail­able. That un­der­stand­ing of the world, fur­ther skewed by this ex­pe­ri­ence of com­pressed time, is also re­flected in the temp­ta­tion – almost a kind of pro­gram­ming we are un­der­go­ing – to make con­nec­tions where there are none, in a des­per­ate at­tempt to make sense of it all. Data streams con­stantly and, ex­ist­ing out­side of time, in a way that is dis­con­nected to ev­ery­thing else. That is ut­terly be­wil­der­ing for us hu­mans, nat­u­ral seek­ers of pat­terns and con­structs that help us com­pre­hend what is go­ing on around us. That stream washes away any footholds. We can’t con­sciously man­age it any more, can’t keep an eye on all that is hap­pen­ing as the stream seem­ingly de­mands we do

»CON­STANTLY BREAK­ING OUR AT­TEN­TION WITH REAL TIME, OUR PACE OF

LIFE – OR, IN A WAY, OUR TWO LIVES, ONE PHYS­I­CAL, THE OTHER ELEC­TRONIC,

A KIND OF SEC­OND LIFE MADE REAL – IS DIC­TATED BY TECH­NOL­OGY. «

– not that stream, im­ply­ing some­thing that can be dipped into oc­ca­sion­ally, is an apt metaphor. Per­pet­ual tsunami may be more ac­cu­rate. The present isn’t big enough, let alone our brains, for the de­mands, knowl­edge, op­por­tu­ni­ties for self-ex­pres­sion and shared ex­pe­ri­ences that the in­ter­net age has brought. The so­lu­tion? Make our own con­nec­tions, how­ever un­sub­stan­ti­ated by the facts or ideas that we have no time to as­cer­tain or de­velop, how­ever dis­parate the data may be – which is cer­tainly fuel for the re­cent spike in con­spir­acy the­o­ris­ing. And, what is more prob­lem­atic, desperately make those con­nec­tions around the one static point in this uni­verse of ones and ze­ros: our­selves. That, it’s been sug­gested – re­turn­ing again to the no­tion that presentism is a kind of tech­nol­ogy-in­duced dis­ease with symp­toms – is akin to a kind of para­noia. Any­one who hasn’t yet ditched Face­book might es­pe­cially know how that feels. This slip­page in our grasp on re­al­ity – real re­al­ity, out there, not through our de­vices – is com­pounded by the fact that our very hu­man way of mak­ing sense of things through nar­ra­tive and story-telling, un­fold­ing over time, is col­laps­ing. Re­al­ity TV is story-free, while much other TV now is less struc­tured around the tra­di­tional lin­ear be­gin­ning-mid­dle-an­dend. The lat­est ex­pe­ri­en­tial video games re­flect this per­fectly now – they have no real end or goal. More wor­ry­ing, news in­creas­ingly op­er­ates in the ever-present, re­spond­ing im­me­di­ately to events whether or not those events have even be­gun to be un­der­stood, drop­ping one story, yet to prop­erly un­furl, as soon as another comes along. And if that sounds a triv­ial con­cern, note how that can shape be­hav­iour and our own ex­pec­ta­tions of be­hav­iour: politi­cians are sim­i­larly now ex­pected to re­spond to events with the same knee-jerk re­ac­tion, mak­ing pol­icy on the hoof; the pub­lic is un­will­ing for them to re­quest time to for­mu­late a more con­sid­ered, and pro­duc­tive, re­sponse. An ide­ol­ogy? What’s that? There’s no long game. Small won­der, with­out over-arch­ing nar­ra­tives, time doesn’t seem to move for­ward – but feels stuck in a per­ma­nent present of se­quen­tial lit­tle spec­ta­cles, empty com­ments and fleet­ing trends. Rushkoff for one adds up th­ese ex­pe­ri­ences, and the time-less state we’re in, to reach a rather startling vi­sion of a pos­si­ble fu­ture (re­mem­ber what the fu­ture was?): that in time, tech’s cease­less com­mu­ni­ca­tions may drive us all slightly mad, mak­ing us akin to zom­bies, com­fort­ably dead­ened to life – and even to hu­man traits the likes of moral­ity – be­cause that’s the only way to break free of the end­less stresses that the con­stant bom­bard­ment of data brings. Un­less, that is, we start to, as it were, re­claim re­al­ity. A dif­fer­ent, less apoc­a­lyp­tic out­come may be if we each start to take de­lib­er­ate choices to, as Ti­mothy Leary and those of the 60s counter-cul­ture had it, turn on, tune in and drop out – although this time the mantra would be more turn off, tune out and – de­nuded of our de­vices – drop back into re­al­ity. We may be locked into the sys­tem as a so­ci­ety, but we can make th­ese choices as in­di­vid­u­als. Read whole books, one book at a time. Have a con­ver­sa­tion – face to face, that is. Don’t worry if you haven’t seen the lat­est ‘most talked about’ TV show or checked your Twit­ter feed for days. Dial down the so­cial me­dia whirl. Take a day off the in­ter­net ev­ery week. An­swer that email when it god­damn suits you, not the sec­ond your smart phone pings. Stop look­ing at your watch. Take back time.

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