ER&L 2016: Finding Time: From Industrial Mythology to Chronemic Literacy

“Time” by cea +

Speaker: Dawna Ballard, Moody College of Communication, University of Texas at Austin

She studies human interaction, particularly the symbols we use in communication. She studies the lived experience of time beyond what is on the clock.

Time has been called the “silent language”. What we see is the tip of the iceberg. It’s not only non-verbal (looking at watch, tapping toes), it’s also full of deeply hidden assumptions that are masked. These hidden assumptions are often seen as truth, and each culture has their own interpretation/approach. We need to develop a chronemic literacy.

Industrial time is visible through the clock. There are a lot of hidden assumptions behind that. For one, it’s not even in tune with the Earth (see also: leap year). Three basic hidden assumptions of industrial time are that people work a lot like machines, that all times are the same, and that we can control the people and events around us. We think this is the way it’s always been, but in fact there are many other ways to orienting to time. This is the chronos aspect of orienting to time.

Pre-industrial and post-industrial time have more in common with each other than with industrial time. Pre-industrial time was based on “the event” (i.e. farming). Assumptions: people work nothing like machines, all times are not the same, and life unfolds through the people and events around us. This is the kairos aspect of time.

The industrial mythology comes with three related myths.

The first one is that better time management skills and tools will make you more productive — the right app will change your life. Time-management originated with factory work, and was wildly successful in that environment. It doesn’t function so well in the office work of today. The reality is that time management is not related to productivity. All it does is help you feel that things are being managed, which is good if that makes you feel happier about your work. It will not solve your time problems. Productivity is a long-term proposition — what is sustainable for you?

The second one is that if you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel like work. (“That’s bullshit.”) Be wary of language that tries to mask work as something else. There are still human limits to work, and no matter how much you enjoy it, you can’t do it all the time forever. Focusing on balance can create unending frustration. Lower-wage workers often don’t even know what this means, or assume it’s just for managers.

Thirdly, focusing on work-life balance will solve your problems. Balance is something that machines do, and it doesn’t really apply to human beings. Work and life as separate terms doesn’t appear until the 1960s, and it was about industrial work. Life should be in our work — our lives are a lot of work. We think that if we can find work/life balance, we think our lives will be centered and at peace. Work has never looked or felt like that. We end up holding on to one or two things that are “necessary”, usually work, and getting that done to the detriment of the others.

Consider alignment. Being mindful of our alignment is being aware of all the interrelated parts that are needed to move forward. When all the parts work together, we get an efficiency of movement. We cannot let something stay out of alignment for too long without expecting repercussions. We can get help from experts (therapists) and support networks (family/friends), and it’s important for our long-term sustainability.

What are your hidden assumptions? What are the things you are thinking about or not? What are the things you believe that are shaping your hidden assumptions? What might be impeding the alignment you would like to achieve?

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