Tom Mason and David Bawden
“[T]he problem of time is inseparable from that of meaning. Time is the fundamental medium and condition of human meanings. It is the finitude of that element which is the ground of all existential quandaries” (Hoffman, 2009, p. 182).
The experience of time, individually (one’s own time) and collectively (our times), has become complex and multi-faceted in ways not known in previous eras. Contemporary life is essentially dependent now on time-based Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs); from smart devices to data centres and the temporal interconnection of all things online. Meanwhile, we face increasingly uncertain futures; pandemics, the climate crisis, political upheavals and new conflicts, which question the very idea of future times with a humanity we might recognise there.
While our new technologies make much possible and invariably promise to save us time, our increased use of them to organise lives stacked with event large and small makes these gains debatable (Rosa, 2012; Wajcman, 2016). Periods that may have been boring or contemplative are now occupied by streams of entertainment and information all vying for our finite attention. Processes in our workplaces change in a near-constant manner as and when new soft/hardware are introduced and oblige us to adapt quickly and efficiently. We remain implored to make the most of life now while planning for futures that our troubled times throw into critical doubt. All this amounts to a sense of temporal plurality, tension and interrelation that supersedes 20th century ideas of progress and the dominance (physically and mentally) of the 24-hour clock on the wall, mantlepiece, or wrist. While time marches on, and despite life tending to feel that it only speeds up, there are any number of variant beats to fall in line with.
—While time marches on, and despite life tending to feel that it only speeds up, there are any number of variant beats to fall in line with.—
Luciano Floridi, and the Infosphere as time-based ecosystem
The ‘infosphere’ is a concept introduced by the contemporary philosopher Luciano Floridi and describes an informational reality that includes both analogue and digital experience (Floridi, 2010). Enabled by ICTs, this is a revolution that, while often coming under the commonly evoked “digital revolution,” is indeed a time-based revolution.
We might illustrate the infosphere by picturing a person walking down a street in the weather of the day (rain, sun, wind, etc), negotiating traffic, other people, obstacles, using services, all the while with their smartphone; messaging, listening to a podcast, on a video call, checking bus times, etc. This example highlights everyday plural temporalities; as the various activities occurring here include the general time, work time and ‘free’ time, the temporalities of the online network their device is operating within, the device’s battery life, the time of whoever else is being communicated to via messaging or video call, the time(s) of other people around.
If we add to this the multiple temporalities of the rolling news media (that occupy our social media feeds as much as the chit chat of our friends and families), the time-shifts of the recent pandemic, as well as ecological time-scapes (from food growth times to coral reef decline, all with impacts on modern ways of life) and the now ever-present climate countdown(s), we begin to understand the complex temporal fabric that makes up the infosphere. This is surely of more use to us in comprehending time today than the stereotypical clock previously mentioned, presenting us with both new challenges and new possibilities.
A plurality of time and temporalities comes with a dimension of stress as in our everyday lives we attempt to balance and make best use of our ‘time affordances’—the time available to us individually and within our social groups, local communities and wider societies; time generally and in the moment. It is common to hear people talk about having no time, having wasted time, and the like, while we perceive time—and so life—to only get faster.
The media theorist Sarah Sharma discusses temporal entanglement, which is to say that ‘one’s own time’ is a negligible concept today when so much of our time is in many ways enmeshed with that of others (Sharma, 2014). For example, on holiday we often rely on the labour time of those in the hotels and restaurants we may visit to provide the services for our leisure. Commuting to work depends on the temporalities of the mode of transport and the operator(s) of it. Our relaxation as we scroll social media feeds requires the web of technologies that make this possible to all be operating efficiently, as well as the temporal availability of others to comment, share, post and so on, keeping the activity alive in the moment. With all this comes the need to recalibrate; to recover from not only the demands inherent to our temporal lives (e.g., those of our employment and domestic labour) but our expectancies of what we can or should be achieving in life.
Meanwhile, the infosphere finds us (humanity) less at the centre of things than one among many “informational entities”—from people to other species, to a document or artifact, to natural phenomena, and so on (Floridi, 2010)—in relation and community. This has profound implications for aligning our ubiquitous technological realms and behaviours with those of ecosystems and the very real conditions of life we rely on, so interweaving combinations of variant and entangled temporalities.
Time and information services
The authors’ research has centred on the effect of Floridi’s infosphere and its plural temporalities on information science, and services such as libraries and other informational resources. The infosphere aids in comprehending the wider scenario, as well as placing any informational entity within an informational ecosystem made up of relationships and interactions. The stress upon time via the acceleration of life affects the information services as it does other sectors, with the continual requirement to update hardware and apps, re-skill according to new processes, and meet the demands of the users of these services who may come to expect levels and delivery akin to those found in the more obvious commercial enterprises that dominate contemporary life.
The effect of time complexity and plural temporalities on the information science and services are many and profound; from the time affordances of our publics to best make us of these services, to the requirements of information services to keep up with continual technological change as it makes demands on how we preserve and maintain the documents that make up our collections, access provisions and, more generally, “the human record” (Bawden and Robinson, 2022). While for example a local library might seem to remain a haven of a certain calm and focus away from the rush of things, it is also a site that today exists within many temporal factors not only in its running but also according to the expectations of both users and funding bodies.
In exploring the topic from this area, we posit the concept of a Time literacy, as a complimentary learning resource to that of information or digital literacy. When we understand our times to be plural, where temporal factors can be multiple, overwhelming and contradictory, affecting both individual and social progress and wellbeing, such a literacy is surely necessary. This would introduce and equip the individual and group with concepts of time, from the more dominant temporal factors and stresses, to coping and alternative approaches. Such a course could be highly enjoyable, combining personal anecdote and experience with these wider concepts and outlooks, and go some way to aiding in being with and among time (Groys, 2010), rather than feeling swept along in uncertain times with disquieting futures ahead. How can we make best use of the temporal plurality of life today, in the infosphere, when it can be easy and quite reasonable to feel time rushing past, if not running out?
Certain aspects in time literacy would be; fostering knowledge of the temporal aspects and effects of ICTs upon us, awareness of temporal difference between people and lifestyles, as well as the time affordances and resources available to us, sharing experiences and concerns, and of course positive and constructive temporal navigation.
The proposed model for time literacy can be found in our article, ‘Times New Plural: The multiple temporalities of contemporary life and the infosphere’ (Bawden and Mason, 2023).
The ideas of the model are applicable in the information sciences and beyond, with a time-literacy potentially equipping us with conscious thought, approaches and tactics for living within and among the time(s) of the infosphere.
As we have come to understand that diversity is necessary for the health of things in general, so too perhaps time and the temporal dimensions to our lives. Entanglement is also to be interrelated, interacting, communal, not alone. Ultimately, of course, times change, and will continue to, rife as they are with anxiety and potential: “The collapse of time into a series of depthless presents and the alienation that is oftentimes considered as a result of it is far from being a done deal” (Keightley, 2012, pp. 20-21).
Bawden, D. and Mason, T. (2023), Times New Plural: The multiple temporalities of contemporary life and the infosphere’ […]. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, https://asistdl.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/asi.24812 [Accessed 01 July 2023].
Bawden, D. and Robinson, L. (2022). Introduction to information science (2nd ed.). London: Facet.
Floridi, L. (2010) Information: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Groys, B. (2010) Going Public. New York: Sternberg Press.
Hoffman, E. (2009) Time. London: Profile Books.
Keightley, E. (2012) Introduction: Time, Media and Modernity. In Time, Media and Modernity. Ed. E. Knightly. Palgrave MacMillan.
Rosa, H. (2015) Social Acceleration – A New Theory of Modernity. New York: Columbia University Press.
Sharma, S. (2014) In the Meantime – Temporality and Cultural Politics. Durham NC: Duke University Press.
Wajcman, J. (2015) Pressed for Time. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Cite this article in APA as: Mason, T. & Bawden, D. (2023, July 6). Times new plural – The multiple temporalities of contemporary life and the infosphere. Information Matters, Vol. 3, Issue 7. https://informationmatters.org/2023/07/times-new-plural-the-multiple-temporalities-of-contemporary-life-and-the-infosphere/