Accelerated Times

What we now begin to feel, therefore – and what begins to emerge as some deeper and more fundamental constitution of postmodernity itself, at least in its temporal dimension – is henceforth, where everything now submits to the perpetual change of fashion and media image, that nothing can change any longer.

Fredric Jameson – Antinomies of the postmodern[1]

We live in odd times. Not an odd time but odd timeS. This plurality of temporal experience could be seen as the pervasive experience of our epoch. The regulating rhythm of clock time inscribed itself into our culture throughout modernity, disciplining a massified workforce. This patterning of our labour persists on the level of language, we still talk of a lunch-hour, however now it more often designates the moment we microwave our pea soup to eat over our computers whilst finishing emails or reading something that came in that morning.

This is not to say that time has disappeared, but rather that co-extensive with the breakdown of the social body into atomised agents was the deconstruction of the unit of the hour into a fragmentation of time of ever smaller and smaller units. Amazon are leading the way here, having secured their position as one of the prime sites of consumption they are now moving into labour provision through the Mechanical Turk[2], an almost humorous acceleration of Taylorism[3]. The Mechanical Turk is a ‘marketplace for work’ in which employers largely from the digital sector request repetitive work which is not yet able to be done by computers. Commonly jobs would be things like suggesting categories for images (regularly pornographic), transcribing segments of interviews or checking opening hours of businesses. These jobs are called HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks) and are paid according to each completed unit of work normally around $0.01, although the payment is subject to the employers’ ‘quality’ assessment and the pay can be withheld with no recourse for the employee.

These temporal shifts inscribe and pattern new forms of behaviour, there is a pressure placed upon us to be visibly productive at all times which is then exacerbated by new technologies of self promotion[4]. This has lead to the perverse situation of the underground drug trade now servicing an elite in search of productivity. Ideas of intoxication that were previously grounded in ‘turning on, tuning in and dropping out’, exploring the possibilities of negating the self and the experience of a dilated sense of time, are now increasingly inverted to a radical act of conformity and an amplification of the performed self. Recently we have seen the appearance of a battery of smart drugs (to match our smart phones) such as Modafinil. These drugs are said to be able to keep people awake for up to 40 hours, not only awake but productive and focussed, and of course were originally developed for the military. On the blog ‘Bold and Determined’[5] exists an account of a man who talks of an underground entrepreneur’s forum (who knew?) from which he found access to Modafinil. The story ends with this observation, ‘There is truly one nasty side effect of coming off of modafinil: You go back to normal. And normal is pretty shitty compared to mighty.’

What we have encountered in the acceleration of our temporal experience is arguably the capitulation of the longue durée of a past, present and future to an eternal and proliferating present. As we succumbed to the narrative of the end of history[6] we see, as observed by the Chief of Theory in Cosmopolis[7], ‘Time is a corporate asset now it belongs to the free market system’. It is in this process of commodification and trade that time encounters its standardisation,  leaving us in a paradoxical time of intense speed with very little movement. 


[1] p.59 The Cultural Turn – Selected Writings on the Postmodern 1983-1998, Verso 1998

[2] The name The Mechanical Turk refers to an 18th Century chess playing automaton that would tour Europe. Later it was discovered it was not a machine at all but rather a sophisticated set up to hide a chess master who was controlling all of the action.

[3] Taylorism is used as shorthand for the scientific management of labour devised by Frederick Taylor in the 1880s and 1890s in which he closely studied workers and developed rational modes of dividing of labour and disciplining workers bodies to become more efficient.

[4] Here I am thinking of the likes of Facebook and Twitter but also the related technologies allowing for permanent connectivity such as smart phones, tablets and soon Google Glass and their resultant application to be perpetually available to reply to emails. See for example this almost parodic advert from Microsoft accessed 30.11.2013

[6] Here I am referring to Francis Fukuyama’s claim in the essay of 1989 that with the end of really existing socialism we have reached the best possible organisation of society in liberal democracy (read free-market capitalism) and we are now the ‘caretakers of human history’. accessed 30.11.2013

[7] Cosmopolis, 2012, dir. David Cronenberg. Based on a novel by Don Delillo, Cosmopolis tells the story of a young asset manager and currency speculator taking a day off work to get his haircut, almost entirely shot in the back of his limousine as the world around him carries on and a stream of people get in and out to conduct meetings.