Life in the fast lane: are digital technologies harming our quality of life?

Digital technologies are changing the way we live – and the speed of living. But is this helping or harming our quality of life?

A new €1.7m multinational research project – TIMED - is exploring how digitalization is affecting our experience of time and impacting our health and wellbeing.

The three-year project across Spain, Czechia, Poland, Germany and Switzerland involves trades unions, the BBC, Alder Hey and the Institute for the Future of Work and is led by LJMU’s Dr Ruth Ogden, a reader in experimental psychology in the Faculty of Health. We posed her some probing questions ….


Please explain some of the ways digitalisation is altering how we use and perceive time?

The mass proliferation of digital technologies means that people now live in a state of permanent connectivity. The effects of this on the availability of time, the use of time and experience of temporality for the individual and for society are presently unknown. Research suggests that technology may be speeding life up. This is because many of the things which naturally slowed life are removed though digitalisation, for example, email is quicker than post. Digital technology has also removed may physical barriers which preserved time in different environments, such as work is no longer limited to the office. As a result, people are less synchronised in their activities with one another. These changes may have significant implications for individual wellbeing and societal cohesion.


Is it the case that time has become compressed for many of us; that’s to say, we are packing more and more activities into our day? 

We believe that this may be the case for many people. Devices which are marketed as time saving are often actually associated with a reduction in time availability, partly because we take on more tasks. 


There must be a limit to how much we can race the clock, are we approaching that limit?  

It is really difficult for us to know what the future will look like. It's conceivable that 100 years ago people would not have thought today’s pace of life was possible. What is however critical is that we understand how the technology used today impacts health and well-being. In doing so we can mitigate threats and promote activities which improve well-being.


How are humans coping? And should we be worried, particularly about our mental health?

Time pressure - feeling like you don't have enough time - is associated with poor health and well-being. So, if digital technology is costing us time we may see a fall in well-being. However, it is also possible that for some people, greater ability to connect with others reduces isolation and loneliness. There are likely to be pros and cons to ever increasing technology use.


You have a theory about time running faster or slower according to changes in our routine. Tell us what this is?

In general, changes in routine alter time by changing how much attention we pay to time and how many memories we form during a period. We use both of these things to help us to make inferences about time. So, when we make lots of new memories we assume a longer period of time has passed. When we pay a lot of attention to time, for example while waiting, we feel like time is passing is slowly. 


What else are you trying to find out?

We want understand how time is used, experienced and shared today. Our project is being conducted in six countries which allows us to compare experiences across Europe. In doing so we hope to establish how changes in temporality as a result of digitalisation maybe helping to unify or divide Europe. We also want to establish who is experiencing a temporal gain from digitalisation and who is experiencing a temporal loss. This should allow us to promote activities and behaviours which promote well-being.


How can you go about testing the impacts of time and digitisation on people?

Our project is multidisciplinary involving psychologists, sociologists, engineers, neuroscientists and philosophers. We will use interviews, questionnaire, lab studies and real-time behaviour analysis to explore digital temporality. We aim to understand the impact of individual digital practices, gender, age and culture on digital temporality.


The project will start in October 2022 and is one of 26 recently approved studies in CHANSE – Collaboration of Humanities and Social Sciences in Europe.


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