The Future Of Time
by Adam Frank
There is, in Albrecht's work, no unambiguous means of identifying time in a fundamental description of the universe. While other physicists think there should be some way around the Clock Ambiguity, Albrecht thinks this new, "softer" vision of time is something science may have live with.
The Clock Ambiguity is one example of a radical new understanding of time coming to life at the hairy edge of cosmological thinking. There are others. At this stage of the game it's impossible to say which will find validation in data. What the Clock Ambiguity does show, quite forcefully, is that fundamentally new concepts of time are already out there now, being poked and prodded by scientists. Science is playing with its version of a new time. If history is any guide, then culture and its time will have to follow suit.
But culture doesn't change just because science does. Instead, there is what might be called an enigmatic entanglement between the two. Their influence upon each other sloshes back and forth, each responding to its own imperatives.
Our rapidly constructed global culture is clearly facing pressures in the form of changing climate, the end of cheap oil and conflict over resources such as fresh water, fisheries and forests. Responding to any of these may be enough to force dramatic changes in what we do and how we do it, i.e. equally dramatic changes in our cultural time-logic. If, for example, gas costs $20 a gallon, then quick trips to the convenience store will come to represent a time-logic whose logic has been exhausted.
But revolutions in time have always been a complicated dance between what we make with our hands and what we conceive with our minds. Technology has always been the middle ground — the shop floor — where new time and new time-logics are hammered out. Our digital age is no different. What we have failed to see is our own role in the process.
Beginning three decades ago, we were promised a new age of freedom through devices that would let us work more efficiently and at our convenience. Instead, this new world was only half-born and digital technologies now have us working everywhere, all the time. Rather than giving us a new time, our Facebooked, GPS-mapped, mobile-connected lives appear to be lashed ever more tightly to the rigid industrial time-logic of our grandparents world.
Where, then, is the fluid, flexible time these new silicon-enabled devices should have enabled?
The problem, clearly, is not just technology, but what we do with it as individuals and as a collective culture. Just as science is in the midst of a grand experiment reinventing cosmological time, we are in the midst of an epoch-making experiment in reinventing our cultural time. Even in the midst of history's broad and powerful flow; this experiment is still one we can all take part in.
The trick is to move beyond time slavery and become, instead, a time-bender.
What does it mean to be a time-bender? It begins by recognizing that the creation of new human times is a creative act. It means using whatever opportunities our lives afford (limited as they may be) to opt out of the old time-logic and create a new one.
In practice, time bending might mean using new technologies to soften the rigid time we have been taught to believe is real. Maybe the next time you make an appointment with a friend, keep it fuzzy. See what "around 6 p.m." feels like since you both will have cell phones and can find each other when you need to. To the degree that your schedule has any flexibility, maybe time bending means surfing your natural periods of concentration, working when you are sharpest, even if it's at 11 p.m., and going down when your attention dims.