How do smartphone calendars affect our sense of time?

It sounds like a big question — and it is. It’s philosophically meaty to talk about time and what it means. It’s unusual for a sociologist to broach this topic, and even more rare for a consumer researcher to do so. But it improves my deep understanding of culture and technology.

I presented findings from our research study on smartphones at the Canadian Communication Association’s annual meeting last week. Here is the abstract, and below that, my slideshare presentation. If you view the presentation ON slideshare, you’ll get the attached notes, which summarize the findings.

This article investigates the temporal effects of smartphone usage among working-aged adults. In particular, we investigate how digital calendars, built into smartphones, affect their users’ sense of time. We conceive of time here as a cultural phenomenon (as opposed to a purely empirical measurement of time). Using this cultural lens, time is a collectively defined notion, which social actors understand and manage through a variety of tools, such as watches, clocks, and in this case, calendars. We first outline how digital calendars differ from analogue ones and we then investigate how digital calendaring affects these social actors’ temporal experience. We summarize findings from a qualitative study, which found that smartphone calendars reveal the world to us as a never-ending list of things to do and people to see. Interestingly, the smartphone calendar often “disappeared” as a technology and became simply part of everyday experience. In this way, the structuring force of the calendar also disappears from view. We also found that smartphone calendars require work themselves. In this sense they are an ironic technology; their primary purpose is to “manage time,” but to do so requires time. We conclude by suggesting that our findings provide insight into our popular belief of pervasive “time poverty” despite a lack of definitive time-use evidence to support that assertion.