I’m a time-shifter (and so are you)
|March 26, 2012||Posted by Sophy Bot under Internet culture|
I used to be one of those people who hated TV. You know the type – I didn’t own one and I wouldn’t allow one in my home. My laptop was my own personal movie theater, and for me that was enough. A few years later I upgraded to a dedicated monitor, and not long after that I caved in and got myself a big old HDTV (and a correspondingly small box for streaming movies and, eventually, TV shows). After swearing it off for years, the realization finally dawned on me that what I’d hated wasn’t the act of watching content – it was the feeling of wasted time I got by endlessly flipping through channels on cable TV. With the nonstop flow of programming available there, it was just too easy to get lost in those channels, usually watching something I didn’t really want to be watching. I wanted to choose for myself how I would spend my time, and not to fall into fruitless time-sinks like channel-surfing.
Unlike pretty much all technologies that preceded it, the internet is, by its very nature, infinite. There is no set start or end – everything is available, all of the time. It is up to us to choose our own beginnings and endings, a freedom we are now coming to expect from older forms of media as they transition into the digital world. We want our movies, music and books to be available when we want them, where we want them, and though legions of viewers still watch American Idol live, scores more are happy to Tivo or download it to watch later, uncut and commercial-free. As the time-unrestricted nature of the internet has become an expectation that many now view as a fundamental human right, we increasingly expect to choose for ourselves not only how we want to live, but when.
As a freelancer who works from home, I often get lost when it comes to time. On many an occasion have I found myself wondering why there are so many people on the roads or in the subways before realizing duh, it’s rush hour, clueless. The ability to work remotely and on my own schedule means Saturdays can be Tuesdays, midnight can be lunchtime and the holiday break can be crunch time. While telecommuters represent an extreme version of a time-untethered existence, anybody who uses the internet is, to some extent, a time-shifter. Older generations gathered around the radio at a set hour to hear weekly broadcasts. The morning newspaper gave you all the news that was fit to print, and not an article or editorial more. Millions tuned in every evening to watch Walter Cronkite and once the national anthem played, that was it for TV viewing that night. These days, it’s up to us what we want to access and when – which is a good thing and a bad thing.
Now that we can choose for ourselves when and how we’re going to interact with just about any form of content out there, it’s also up to us to choose when to start, and when it’s time to stop. Anybody who’s surfed the internet knows how easy it is to get sucked into the LOLcats vortex, emerging hours later with that same sense of wasted time that once made me shun cable TV. With everything now available all the time, it’s up to us to choose when and how to interact with all that content, and with each other. When I first started freelancing, I had to set certain rules for myself to make sure I still got things done. Similarly, I have rules for myself when it comes to interacting with content. I still don’t allow cable TV in my home (though I’m an avid user of Netflix). I only use social networks on my own computer – no Twitter on my mobile or peeking in on Facebook when I’m at a friend’s. My phone gets shut down every evening when I’m done working, and so on. These rules impose a certain framework that helps me be more effective and less distracted, and all of that makes me a happier human being. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, with great freedom comes great responsibility. You’re darned right that I missed some deadlines in my early freelancing days due to irresponsible use of my new-found freedom; it wasn’t until I started actively managing that freedom that I began to truly reap the rewards. And it wasn’t until I set limits on my technology usage that I was able to fully enjoy it without being overwhelmed.
What about you, my fellow time-shifters? How do you keep yourself from getting sucked into the always on, always connected, always new world of internet content and interactions?
Image credit: Sean MacEntee