Technology affects how we experience time

Since the beginning of humans, time has been essential to organize their activities, but also their lives, from birth to death. Time is expressed through past, present and future. Not only the present is meaningful but also the past which represents all the actions so far. The future is unknown and unforeseeable. In order to understand how contemporary technology affects humans’ perception and experience of time, this essay will analyze two media industries: vlogging and gaming. In both cases, digital media interacts with the user, through archiving and accessibility to databases, being able to create “a certain relationship between the present and several segments of the past” (Barker, 2012, p. 48). As a result, the media objects “control the flux of our time” (Hansen, 2009, p. 307), shaping how people perceive their everyday temporality. The first chapter will evaluate vlogging in relation to time, from a perspective of a contemporary digital diary, through which vloggers film their everyday life, sharing it with a vast audience. The second chapter analyzes the gaming industry, regarding the required time a user needs to spend playing in order to complete the achievements and to improve the performance within the virtual world.

© Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay.

A recognized measure of time is the clock, which aligns people with “the vast domain of sub-perceptual rhythms and flows that undergird our globalized world” (Hansen, 2009, p. 303). The world is a process in development, since “each instant in time – and everything that exists in that instant – is a new creation” (Whitehead, quoted in Barker, 2012, p. 36). Humans have seen changes throughout the history: from a period in which all one operated was a set of stone tools to a period in which, with one digital button, one can access unlimited information. Time is different with each new technological invention, mostly because of the “digital computational revolution” (Hansen, 2009, p. 295). The contemporary era is also called the age of technology, since the history of people is “no longer in the realm of genetic evolution but that of technical evolution” (Roberts, 2010, p. 56).

With the advent of the Internet and the development of new digital domains of activity, vlogging has become not only an entertainment media object for the viewers but also a career for the users. Vlogs represent “user-generated content that can be shared on video-sharing platforms” (Ibrahim, 2020, p. 2), as a way of online publishing, some of them “including personal online diaries” (ibid.). The objective of the classic diaries was to archive private experiences during an extended period, being forbidden to be read by someone else. People who vlog “chronicle their lives with a nominal digital literacy of new media technologies” (Ibrahim, 2020, p. 7). A vlog is a “visual artefact” (Ibrahim, 2020, p. 5) intended to be watched by an audience on a screen.

This chapter will analyse a London-based vlogging family, SACCONEJOLYs with 1,8 million subscribers on their YouTube (2020) channel. Jonathan Saccone-Joly started documenting his life since 2009, meeting Anna Saccone-Joly later and having “2,700 videos detailing their lives” (Griffiths, 2017) until the present. Technology “is both temporal and temporalizing” (Barker, 2012, p. 37), creating “temporal experiences” (ibid.). These experiences are watched by a public at any time, while for the vlogging family, “the sense of immediacy, the accelerated temporality through upload time” (Ibrahim, 2020, p. 10) is required daily, demanding a certain amount of time. According to Jonathan Saccone-Joly in an interview for Independent, they produce real content, “filled with tragedy and drama and romance and happiness” (quoted in Molony, 2017). For instance, the video in which “they broadcast the birth of their first daughter” (ibid.) has 5,362,359 views, according to their YouTube (2012) channel.

Besides the emotional connection created with the public, filming their daily life has become a family business, monetizing their “private realms of the everyday” (Ibrahim, 2020, p. 2) life and increasing their earnings “well into six figures” (Molony, 2017). This shows that media innovations create new professions. More people move to a “technicized life” (Stiegler, 1998, p. 276) that, in the case of the vlogging family, is shared with a vast audience daily. Hence, the viewer can return to a specific video of a certain day, a recurrence to the “historial temporality” (ibid., p. 242) of the family that was not possible before contemporary media. Stiegler (1998, p. 216) argues that there is always a “completion as knowledge of an essential incompletion” regarding time. In this case, the family’s online diary is never complete.

There is a consistency for the viewer in knowing, through the subscription, as an “anticipation of actuality” (Alweiss, 2002, p. 125) that another step of their daily journey will be there. However, there is a possibility that the family will no longer continue to share their lives with the public, which is a sudden incompletion of the action to follow them, representing a change in both the viewer’s and the user’s predetermined time. On this matter, Stiegler (1998, p. 88) suggests that “technological power risks sweeping the human away” through an “alteration of space and time” because, with vlogging, the viewer may have a completely different time zone in a different country than the vlogging family he/she watches.

Through the way in which it is created, vlogging provides the means of returning to a historical temporality, through the “traces left of that past” (Stiegler, 1998, p. 159) on YouTube. Memories of meaningful experiences are available to watch for future generations of the Saccone-Joly family. For Stiegler (1998, p. 60) the “industrialization of memory” represents “a transformation in the technology of memory itself” that has made an important shift in history. The industrialization is expressed through the “generalization of the production of industrial temporal objects” (Stiegler quoted in Roberts, 2010, p. 59). This is another way of defining vlogging in the contemporary era by “reflecting on time-consciousness” (Hansen, 2009, p. 300). Given this concept, the action of perceiving the experiences in a video for the first time is related to “primary retention” (Husserl, quoted in Roberts, 2010, p. 58). Considering that the “secondary retention” (ibid.) represents the remembering of that specific video the next day; this type of memory belongs “to the imagination” (ibid.). Without these two types of memories, it is impossible to understand the meaning of the video. Due to the evolution of technology, it is possible to perceive “the same temporal object twice” (Roberts, 2010, p. 58), a process defined by Stiegler (1998, p. 246) as “tertiary memory”.

© Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

Even though technology has become a support for people's lives, there are negative aspects about it. “Traditional forms of communities” (Stiegler, 1998, p. 88) are changed by technological innovations. People rely on the innovations “without understanding them” (Hansen, 2009, p. 310) in such a way that the user has the role of “an operator” (Stiegler, 1998, p. 75), even if the machine does not become “reality” (ibid.) until the human uses it. This relation between culture and media is represented through the insignificance of when the video is accessed in order to watch the temporality of the actions performed by the one who uploaded it on a platform – in this case, on YouTube. As mentioned, the vlogging industry “imposes new conventions and moralities of showcasing life” (Ibrahim, 2020, p. 10) with millions of people, through their visual presentation. In the interview for conducted by Molony (2017), Jonathan recognizes their experiences and their subscribers’ experiences represent a “parallel journey” in a double temporality that “can align” sometimes, such as experiencing a tragedy at the same time.

While space and time are irrelevant when it comes to accessing the video by the subscriber, for the vlogging family these aspects are essential in creating a coherent narrative. Although the length of the video depends on the specific experiences of that day, the space in which it is filmed is consistent in such a way that the viewer creates a familiar connection with the background. As with movies, where “the camera positions are known in advance” (Galloway, 2006, p. 63), their house “is furnished to show-home standards” (Molony, 2017). Even though their home is a set that millions of people are analysing every day, they are humans like everyone else. Also, given that they have four children, there are moments that are not filmed in order to protect their privacy. All temporal experiences that are archived digitally create “a trail of data or a digital footprint” (Lichtenstein et al., 2017). From the second in which the video was posted, it belongs “in the public domain” (ibid.) and the reach of their digital footprint is “hard to quantify in a meaningful way” (ibid.). It means that “by the time children come of age to take responsibility of their online identities” (ibid.), their digital footprint may have already influenced their social life. According to Jonathan Saccone-Joly in the interview for, “maybe Emilia is going to get a hard time in school because she wore a hat one day” (Molony, 2017) because a colleague could have accessed her digital footprint on their YouTube channel.

In order to minimize the negative aspects of a “technicized life” (Stiegler, 1998, p. 276) online, the editing of the videos “is designed to protect his children as much as possible” (Molony, 2017). However, through digital inscriptions, there is a certain privilege the user has “in the concrete production of contemporary temporalizations” (Hansen, 2009, p. 297). Even if their temporal experiences are shared with an unknown audience, they can create their digital identities as they wish by choosing which scenes go into the video and which scenes are deleted by editing in the post-production process. Also, the interaction between the user and the subscriber is achieved through the visual portrait technique, which strengthens the feeling of closeness and familiarity, through which the user can control the visuality in any way he/she wants, with no rules. Considering all the points discussed, vlogging has a role in changing the experiences and perceptions of time for the people interested in it.

The gaming industry is a thriving industry, developed especially in the contemporary era. Vlogging and gaming have certain aspects in common, but the usage and the production are relatively different. While vlogging is “fractured and discontinuous” (Galloway, 2006, p. 65) through the editing phrase, “gameplay is fluid and continuous” (ibid.). Games do not exist in real time, due to the fact that games “pause, speed up, slow down, and restart often” (Galloway, 2006, p. 65-66), allowing the user to interrupt the gameplay whenever it is necessary. Games are a form of media, which are intended primarily for entertaining the users in their leisure time. They are usually based on reality, as “systems with specific logic” (Mhamdi, 2017, p. 40), which belong to a certain genre. They are constituted as “a stabilization of technical evolution around previous acquisitions and structural tendencies” (Stiegler, 1998, p. 29). Whitehead describes the process of production of media objects, in this case games, as taking form “from a process or flow of information between digital and physical occasions” (quoted in Barker, 2012, p. 32).

Fortnite gameplay

In order to investigate how the gaming industry influences the perception and experience of time for people, this chapter will examine “one of the most popular digital games in the world” (Carter et al., 2020, p. 1), Fortnite (2017), which had a total of 19,900,000 players only on the PlayStation platform at 19 November 2020 (PlayStation game stats, 2020). According to recent statistics on the Game (2020) website, the cumulative time spent on Fortnite is of “10.4 million years - 52 times longer than humans have lived on the planet”, fact that confirms the extreme popularity this game has accumulated in just four years from its release. Fortnite has been “streamed for over 1.2 million hours in the last year” (ibid.). This suggests that it is not only among the favourite games of millions of people now but also that countless of people prefer to use their time to watch others play.

Fortnite modes

Fortnite is a multiplayer game, with its principal mode of playing being “Battle Royale”, “where up to 100 players eject from a flying ‘battle bus’ to disperse over the island” (Moore and Carter, 2020, para. 4), which is full of diverse landscapes that the player travels “within 15-20 minutes” (ibid.). According to Whitehead, “the actual entity is in constant process toward its satisfaction, toward its becoming” (quoted in Barker, 2012, p. 40), in this case, Fortnite is an entity itself that is always updated by the developers. Surely, the game is never complete, considering its meanings always change. Therefore, it is never “entirely exhausted by interpreters” (Mhamdi, 2017, p. 45), who are the users. The “interactive event” (Barker, 2012, p. 32) is realised by the user entity and Fortnite, since they “encounter each other” (ibid.) with the help of technology. The game relies on a “series of events” (Barker, 2012, p. 38) to achieve “the process of becoming” (ibid.) an actual entity. Other entities “work together to constitute experience” (Barker, 2012, p. 44), such as the joystick and the video game console. Fortnite, as any other game, is constituted by a “continual stream of code, directing the computer to execute specific tasks” (Barker, 2012, p. 35) chosen by the user, through which are influenced the “movements of the participants” (Barker, 2012, p. 34). By using the joystick, the user can control what the character does on screen.

Fortnite gameplay

In terms of the content, there is no set narrative. There is absolute freedom of choice for the player regarding where to go and what to do. Every decision in every second of the match changes the trajectory to the target, which is the winning of the match, influenced by a series of “smaller events” (ibid.), such as choosing the strategy. In order to survive throughout the game, the users must “scavenge weapons, traps, ammunition and medical supplies when they land” (Moore and Carter, 2020, para. 4), which they will need in confrontations with other opponents.

Random Fortnite items

In order to succeed, all the “outcomes of a multiplicity of events” (Whitehead, quoted in Barker, 2012, p. 43) discussed previously are necessary. Also, the game requires absolute attention because a “failure to respond instantly may result in the player being shot” (Mhamdi, 2017, p. 43). To provide a purpose to the game, in addition to winning, and to minimize the time required to complete a match, the creators have developed a fatal storm for anyone caught in it. Considering all the aspects of the game, the players “become embodied” (Moore and Carter, 2020, para. 2) in this “shared virtual space” (ibid.), which is attracting progressively more people.

At the end of the match, inconsequential of the outcome, the players are detached from “that instance of the island to be respawned on another battle bus, flying over another identical instantiation of that same virtual world” (Moore and Carter, 2020, para. 4). To clarify, the same world exists “tens of thousands of times simultaneously” (ibid.). The virtual temporality is completely detached from the real one, without the existence of a “temporal distance during a game play” (Mhamdi, 2017, p. 45). Whitehead describes this type of continuity as how “one series of becomings makes way for another series” (quoted in Barker, 2012, p. 39), referring to a temporality that is realised through the “archiving function of vast databases and the nonlinearity and networking capabilities of digital systems” (quoted in Barker, 2012, p. 46).

Through the way in which Fortnite is created, as a digital system, it generates “relationships between the present and the potentiality of the future” (Whitehead, quoted in Barker, 2012, p. 48). This means that the user can anticipate the time, namely how long a match lasts, given that he/she is aware of the mortality of the character. Lévinas indicates that the main reason why humans cannot “understand the meaning of time” (quoted in Alweiss, 2002, p. 125) fully is because “we humans never have death at our disposal” (ibid.) in comparison with the user that is playing Fortnite. Therefore, the temporality during the game is different from reality, where the “traditional intellectual measurement of passing time is directed by the observable present” (Barker, 2012, p. 40). However, in the case of Fortnite, with the beginning of the next match, the actions of the previous one does not affect the present one in any way.

A method of measuring an entire year is represented by calendars “in which common temporality is inscribed” (Stiegler, 1998, p. 222-223), while Fortnite is “split into a series of three-month-long seasons” (Stuart, 2019). At the introduction of a new season, a different central narrative appears that is built on “previous developments” (Moore and Carter, 2020, para. 7) to preserve the continuity. This game’s feature creates a double temporality for the user, providing “a sense of a pervasive world” (Moore and Carter, 2020, para. 2) by combining the reality’s temporality and the “one that exists alongside our own” (ibid.). Throughout a sole season, players can “win challenges, unlock content, and follow narrative events” (Moore and Carter, 2020, para. 1), which impact their experience. Participation in each season shows the dedication of a player that is directly proportional to his/her performance. For instance, Josh Hart, a basketball player, recalls in an interview that he “owns a briefcase specifically designed to safely transport his console and a 19-inch TV” (Sepkowitz, 2018), so he can play while he travels.

Due to the immense popularity, the frequent updating and the complex temporalities that Fortnite offers, users are dedicating a portion of their day to it. This represents an “investment” (Moore and Carter, 2020, para. 9) and an “affective bond with the game world” (ibid.). In this way, the performance is improved, “requiring both extensive effort and skill” (Moore and Carter, 2020, para. 6). According to an article published in September by Forbes, the average player “has spent the equivalent of about 310 days playing the game” (Chandler, 2020). Considering these key points, Fortnite has proven to be “one of the most innovative story experiments of the decade” (Stuart, 2019), shaping the way the new generations experience time.

In conclusion, contemporary media is slowly impacting people’s perceptions and experience of time. As seen, the vlogging and gaming industries play an essential role in the lives of people in the modern age, both users in terms of those whose who are producing the content, and those who are just watching. Although they may seem complete objects of media, there is a certain incompletion regarding time for both. While SACCONEJOLYs family update their channel every day, the Fortnite developers update it every three months almost completely, which means there is an urgency for the user to check on it. The user entity has the role of an operator, who interacts with technology daily. Besides interacting, the user must interpret the meanings behind games, which frequently change, but also behind vlogs, shown through the “industrialization of memory” concept. This means technology demands a certain amount of time in both cases: while for vlogging it is regarding the production and post-production phrases, for games that signifies time to improve the skills and the performance. Both industries have a different historical temporality from the real past. Regarding the present, the user experiences a double temporality through a parallel journey with the vlogger and the seasons feature in Fortnite. The subscribers know, through their subscription, when the next video is uploaded, and the players of the game can anticipate the future just by checking the map and see how long the “storm” lasts. To conclude, the contemporary technology is not only changing the perception and experience of time, but also the traditional models of communities and what an identity means; from a real identity to a digital identity.

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