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reading memo

Judy Wajcman


Photo by Agê Barros on Unsplash

In Judy Wajcman’s Pressed for Time: The Acceleration of Time in Digital Capitalism, the notion of technology as the producer of our busy and harried modern lifestyles is questioned and challenged. While it does seem, with the emergence of technologies such as the mobile phone, social media, and productivity apps, that our 21st century society is going full speed towards an unprecedented future, Wajcman refuses to reduce her critique to that of our material innovations. In fact, Wajcman asserts that we must indeed see our technologies as coexisting entities and that the shaping of both technology and society is a reciprocal and mutual act. While we do have blindspots and shortcomings in allowing technology to structure how we live day by day, Wajcman asserts that these blindspots prevent us from studying and criticizing our own contributions to our conformed, fast-paced lifestyles.

“we must indeed see our technologies as coexisting entities and that the shaping of both technology and society is a reciprocal and mutual act”

Wajcman begins her study by focusing on our natural and biological processes that dictate our time in relation to sleep. She proposes that we live in this sort of Acceleration Society in which, despite our natural and biological clock time and forces, our society’s sociopolitical structure undermines this in prioritization of our state of productivity. It isn’t necessarily that our technological gadgets have framed and structured our work and leisure time. It is us who have framed our structure and system ourselves. Our technological devices, in its nature and design, are merely a reflection of our own prioritizations. Technological Acceleration has indeed brought about intensely fast-paced technologies designed to minimize lag time with updates and newer versions designed to up the standards that were just recently executed. We are constantly reaching for the next and greater level as our euphoric tolerance for instantaneous results require faster reward times. Acceleration of Social Change also has distorted our sense of time in that progressive political reformations have risen at faster rates. Demand for political change is now ever more visually accessible to the public’s eyes and the emergence of real-time news reporting, through social media and major news outlets. Prior to this, eradicating mass injustice took many centuries. Lastly, Wajcman explains that the Acceleration of the Pace of Life has increased our temporal density and our need to process multiple information at a time and execute many actions all at once, given the aid of facilitating technological devices that allow for this to happen. With these three accelerations in mind, we situate the causing factor on technology itself and while it is present in all forms of acceleration, Wajcman believes that the sociopolitical and cultural forces have much more to do with the way we sense the speediness of time.

In Chapter 7, Wajcman concludes the main reasons for why she believes we live in such a hecticly harried society. And it goes back to the point that we created it ourselves and that our technological devices are reflections of our social norms and values. Our society, in itself, values speed not for speed’s sake, but speed for the sake of productivity and efficiency which give rise to labor that results in maximum profits. We sensationalize long work hours and associate this with economic and societal capital and, therefore, success. Our society sees and devalues leisure time and idleness as failure to be profitable and participatory in our economy. And therefore, many technologies that are designed and programmed nowadays do not reflect leisure time, even for the technological gadgets that are in fact seen as a form of leisure. Video games, such as 2k and Call of Duty, are microcosms of our capitalistic structures in which even idleness from these games result in stagnant player statuses, accolades, and virtual capital. Wajcman even states that our leisure time in general, like vacationing and or spending time with our kids, has been infiltrated by the need to do work and organize our leisure time through laborious organizing activities and or multitask this leisure time alongside work duties. The way our culture values productivity has made even our conception of leisure time as a form of labor in and of itself and this has definitely blurred the distinction between work and home life. Wajcman also proposed that leisure time is reached by autonomy over one’s own time. She reminds us that this is in its essence a privilege that can be bought by power, money, and status which are not evenly distributed among everyone who desires such leisure.

Overall, Wajcman supports Donna Harraway’s perspective that technology and human society are coexisting forces, and vilifying one over the other will not result in efficient solutions and reflection. In finding these solutions, Wajcman also highlights the importance of how sociopolitical systems value time as something we must appropriate and commodify so that the image of progress rests on our seizure of all 24 hours of the day. When we situate it within this perspective, we are able to then find ways to create and design new technology to better reconstruct our sensibilities and our relation with time not associated with capital production but time that opens the arena for leisure and our innate pleasures and desires. And in doing so, we rebuild a society that can essentially slow down our sense of time by changing our societal values towards it.
June 7, 2020
Est Reading Time: 10min

Special thanks to Professor Davide Carpano for a great last quarter.

Professor Davide Carpano
Sociology 171 - Technology & Societ