Thursday, January 22, 2015

Judy Wajcman’s "Pressed for Time"

Judy Wajcman is the Anthony Giddens Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is the author of several books on technology and culture, such as The Social Shaping of Technology, Feminism Confronts Technology and TechnoFeminism.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Pressed for Time: The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism, and reported the following:
Page 99 does contain one of the major themes of my book, but only narrowly. It introduces a study I conducted on how multimodal digital connectivity affects knowledge workers. That is, how having 24/7 communication via mobile phones and the Internet affects how work is organised and performed. On page 99 there is a Table showing that the average duration of work episodes during the day is just under three minutes. But it is only in subsequent pages that I build an argument about the relationship between technology and how we interpret and use it.

You learn later in the chapter that while most communication is now mediated by technologies, it is not the technology itself that dictates the pace of work. For example, I argue that email and information overload have become symbolic of work stress. The fact that we feel the need to respond to email quickly is not due to the speed of data transmission, but because of collective norms that have built up about appropriate response times.

So page 99 does give the reader a sense of the broader themes of the book: our perception that the pace of life is faster than it used to be and that digital gadgets are to blame. That we live in an acceleration society, constantly feeling rushed and pressed for time. But the book critiques the idea that digital technologies are inexorable driving acceleration of everyday life.

If we feel pressed for time today, it is not because of technology per se, but because of the priorities and parameters we ourselves set. The contemporary imperative of speed is as much a cultural artifact as it is a technological one. Digital time is no different – ultimately it needs to be understood as a product of the ways in which humans use, interact with, and indeed build technology. If we want to take more control of our time, and feel less pressed for time, we must contest the imperative of speed.
Learn more about Pressed for Time at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue