DxF2009, Utrecht: "All the time in the world"

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Given at Design By Fire 2009, Utrecht http://www.designbyfire.nl/2009/ Talk description: "People, places, time. The triumvirate of factors at play in mobile, social, locative services might be familiar at the surface level to designers and developers. Our relationships to each other, the cities and places we inhabit and navigate have been transformed in the last few years by the technology, products and services that we have designed — but what about that last one of the three — time? Using examples from the development of Dopplr.com and other services — alongside historical and science-fictional perspectives — Matt will explore what we might call neochronometry and illustrate some directions we could take as interaction designers to treat time as a material."

Text of DxF2009, Utrecht: "All the time in the world"

  • The talk opens with a short video clip of The Doctor explaining the nature of Time, from Blink - you can watch it here: http:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=vY_Ry8J_jdw
  • We have all the time in the world Design by Fire, October 2009 Nederlands Spoorwegmuseum, Utrecht 52513.99N, 5752.97E Matt Jones
  • Hello. Hello. My name is Matt Jones, and Im a designer. I work at a small design and invention company called BERG in London. We do product, service and media design, and produce our own products to take to market.
  • I live in Greenwich, London
  • How many of you have heard of Greenwich?
  • Youve probably heard of Greenwich Mean Time, or the Meridian Line
  • Or you might have heard of the Royal Observatory
  • Which is where the Prime Meridian of the World passes through...
  • (Happy 125th Birthday!) Here I am, half in the east of the world, half in the west. So this is where maps start, or end. P.s. its the 125th birthday of the Prime Meridian this week...
  • Where time comes from And heres the Observatory. Where time comes from...
  • What does that even mean? Where Time comes from? What does that even mean? Where maps start?! The arrogance! How can we even say such things? Well - what I want to talk about today is how we, as human cultures - CONSTRUCTED time, and as a result how we, as designers, can DE-CONSTRUCT it and RE- CONSTRUCT it.
  • What is Time? So, first of all were going to have to take a lightning tour of Time.
  • While putting this talk together I used this book by Dan Falk as a guide - its an excellent overview - touching on the cultural, cognitive and scientific aspects of what we call time - a lot of the quotes Ill use are from the book.
  • Time is physics? Lets start with the science bit...
  • In the 1600s, Sir Isaac Newton gave us a firm grip on the universe and how it worked. It was a majestic mechanism - clockwork, predictable, discrete and very neat!
  • He didnt have it all his own way at the time though - from Falks book: Time, the relationists [e.g. Leibniz] argued, is simply a way of comparing one event to another. In the relational view, time is not independent of the material objects that make up the universe. Just the opposite in face: the physical objects and their motions are what define the passage of time.
  • . 0! 2 About 100 years ago, Albert came along and proposed something very different. His was a much more messy, subjective universe that we were tangled up in. Its highly contextual, everything is deeply interwingled and fuzzy. In many ways, Universe 2.0! Sorry.
  • Physics makes no distinction between past and future. Some physicists think of time, together with space as a vast block in which past and future have equal status. Now, meanwhile is reduced to a subjective label, just like here
  • This is a diagram of an observers passage through spacetime - its DOPPLR a diagram we used a lot as a metaphor when we were designing Dopplr... DOPPLR is about the future, which you cant automate (yet) DOPPLR Where next? Where next? Where next?
  • The hypersurface of the present THE HYPERSURFACE OF THE PRESENT! What a great sentence!!! It is where we all are, right now. Right now? You said there was no such thing as now. Well, yes. It all gets a bit Morpheus, very quickly, doesnt it.
  • Martin Hilpoltsteiner http://www.recreating-movement.com From Falks book again: It is difficult for us to abandon the idea of a universal 'now." We imagine we can utter the phrase "everything in the universe that is happening right now" and have it refer to a meaningful set of events. But Einstein shows us this statement has in fact, no clear meaning. Each observer has his own list of events that appear to be happening "now", and no one persons list is more authoritative that the next. There is no "master clock" for the universe that can tell us what happened when. "Now" - one of the simplest and most-often-uttered words in our language - seems to have slipped from our grasp.
  • Hypertime! So if theres no now, how does time flow? In the 1960s, the philosopher Jack Smart gave us a clear account of the problem: "If time flows... this would be a motion with respect to a hypertime... if motion in space is feet per second, at what speed is the flow of time? Seconds per what? Moreover, if the passage is the essence of time, it is presumably the essence of hypertime too, which would lead us to postulate a hyper-hypertime and so on infinitum."
  • Hypertime is a favourite thing of one of my partners in BERG, Jack Schulze. Here he is talking about it with reference to comic books...
  • The Invisibles And if you think about comic books, they are kind of Hypertime. Time flows, theres a now - but everything is there at once. We construct the flow in our minds as we read. "To take the space-time view seriously," [philosopher Michael Lockqood] writes, "is indeed to regard everything that ever exists, or even happens, at any time or place, as being just as real as the contents of the here and now."
  • Planetary This is Planetary, by Warren Ellis - probably one of my favourite comic books of all time. Its about secret historys - PLANETARY are a team of archeologists of secret fantastic things. Its about time, and hypertime - and just ended with issue 27. In it, is state- of-the-art Time Travel theory.
  • [Retrocausality] is, roughly, the peculiar state of affairs in [quantum entanglement, where] the future can affect the present or the present can affect the past - the subatomic equivalent of arriving at work before you've left the house. Though it sounds wildly counterintuitive, there's nothing explicit in the laws of physics that rules out such influence.
  • Flash Forward If you think about it - the number of shows
  • Fringe That feature complex retrocausation loops...
  • layers and layers of them
  • Heroes Is incredible...
  • Lost So, perhaps we are becoming pretty literate in such things...
  • Dan Hill This is a time-based notation -almost a musical notation - created by Dan Hill of http://cityofsound.com to describe the overlapping, interlinking media of the LOST story... around, through and beneath the TV broadcast...
  • Steven Johnson maintains that the complexity of our media is making us cleverer...
  • Time is cognition? Which leads us to this thing - our brain. From Falks book: Harvard psychologist Daniel Schacter, writing in a recent issue of 'Nature Reviews - Neuroscience', says one can think of the brain "as a fundamentally prospective organ that is designed to use information fom the past and present to generate prediction about the future. Memory can be though of as a tool used by the prospective brain to generate simulations of possible future events."
  • A San Diego man known as E.P. suffers from [a brain injury] Fifteen years ago, an infection destroyed large portions of his brain's temporal lobes. he has forgotten his past and cannot form new memories. Writer Joshua Foer gives a moving description of E.P. in a recent National Geographic cover story: "Without memory, E.P. has fallen completely out of tome. He has now stream of consciousness, just droplets that immediately evaporate... Trapped in this limbo of an eternal present, between a past he can't remember and a future he can't contemplate, he lives a sedentary life... He is trapped in the ultimate existential nightmare blind to the reality in which he lives." and yet his daughter reports that E.P. is "happy all the time. Very happy. I guess that's because he doesn't have any stress in his life."
  • How m