Optimizing Time in the Digital Age

Optimizing Time in the Digital Age

There is a widespread assumption that digital technologies are radically altering our perception of time: that we live too fast, that time is scarce and that the pace of life is accelerating beyond our control. The iconic image that abounds is that of the frenetic, technologically tethered, iPhone-addicted citizen. As these digital devices increasingly colonize everyday life, mediating more and more of our time, we are sold a host of new apps and services with the promise of temporal optimization. Paradoxically, such devices are seen as the cause of time pressure as well as the cure.

In her talk, Wajcman explores this paradox, arguing that while no temporal logic is inherent in technologies, artifacts do play a central role in shaping and remaking people’s experience of time. She illustrates this by exploring the vision of ‘intelligent’ time management underlying the design of electronic calendars. Not only do these scheduling systems treat time as quantitative data, a commodity, they now seek to optimize our activities through algorithmic intervention. In this vision, intelligent digital assistants—based on individualized behavioral algorithms—aim to solve one of life’s existential problems: how best to organize our time. Drawing on interviews with high-tech company engineers, Wajcman shows that calendars are emblematic of the longstanding but mistaken belief, hegemonic in Silicon Valley, that automation will deliver us more time.



Judy Wajcman is the Anthony Giddens Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics. She was previously Professor of Sociology in the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University. She has held posts in Cambridge, Edinburgh, Manchester, Sydney, Warwick, recently holding a Mellon Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. In 2013, she was the recipient of the William F. Ogburn Career Achievement Award of the American Sociological Association. Professor Wajcman has an honorary doctorate from the University of Geneva, is a Fellow of the British Academy, and she was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oxford Internet Institute in 2018. She has recently been appointed as Turing Fellow and Principal Investigator on the Women in Data Science and Artificial Intelligence research project at the Alan Turing Institute.

Professor Wajcman has published widely in the fields of science and technology studies, feminist theory, work and organizations. Her books include The Social Shaping of Technology, Feminism Confronts Technology, Managing Like a Man: Women and Men in Corporate Management, TechnoFeminism, The Politics of Working Life, The Sociology of Speed, and Pressed for Time: The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism, which was awarded the 2017 Ludwik Fleck prize by the Society for the Social Studies of Science. Her work has been translated into Chinese, French, German, Greek, Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish and Russian. Her current research is about the impact of digital technologies on the experience of time in everyday life.


Reception to immediately follow!