Plane travel and various appointments has me thinking about being "on time" quite a bit today, in the conventional sense. Then this morning I encountered so less conventional ways of thinking about the issue. As I've now made a regular practice, I was listening to Melvyn Bragg's "In Our Time," where this week's discussion was on the physics of time. I then attended a panel with Dave Parry, Matt Gold, John Jones, and Brian Croxall on microblogging.
One of the points discussed there, in a wide-ranging conversation, was that microblogging changes our relationship with time, the whole instantaneous nature of the tweet and (for the haters) the potential for a slavish dedication to daily minutiae. Bragg's guests were having a different conversation. There can be some question, in terms of physics, as to whether or not time exists as an independent phenomena. Newton imaging a divine clock ticking away outside the physical universe. From Einstein, as I understand it, we get the merging of space and time. Time is relative to things like position and speed. Then one can go further. Looking at sub-atomic particles it is possible to say that time doesn't really function as part of the equation of their behavior. One of the speakers made an analogy to temperature. Temperature is a measure of a system of molecules moving about. The more they move, the hotter they get. But if you look at just one molecule moving around, it doesn't make sense to say that it has a temperature. Time could be like that, an emergent quality of complex systems, like our consciousness for example.
During the Bragg conversation, there was much talk about stars and how when we look at starlight we are seeing events that happend millions and billions of years ago, depending on the distance of the star from earth. The same used to be true of human events. If something happened on the other side of the planet, it used to take weeks or months or years to reach you. Of course one can go back far enough to where such events never really reached you. If we understand time as wedded to space (a la Einstein) then we must say that such experiences of time are quite different from our own and that technology/networks have the power to reshape space-time.
This means a very different notion of being, I would suggest.
During the panel, there was talk of the danger and potential of mobs emerging from the political use of twitter. As we worked through that idea though, it seemed that perhaps the idea of the mob (smart or otherwise) is no longer entirely useful. I was thinking that twittering might be a spiky activity (a la Richard Florida) and that twittering is part of a new literacy that leads toward a new economic class, but it might likewise by that the idea of class is likewise troubled by the reformation of space-time. Perhaps this is like the "wranglers" Bruce Sterling suggests we will become in the age of the spime.
Regardless, it seems clear that time is not constant (I know for sure that the departure time of my plane is not constant!), but that I better be "on time" for my next appointment. And that means finishing up quickly here. It does seem to me though, that thinking about this reshaping of time is another way of getting at the cognisphere and "whatever" we may become.