by Joanna Wiebe
Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana. I agree about the banana, but I'm not so sure about the arrow. What is the shape of time? Our online calendars, clocks and other models of time often are designed with the understanding that time is a forward-moving arrow. This sounds logical to the Western, English-speaking scientific mind. However, not everyone conceptualizes time as a relentless hurtling forward. Some cultures understand time as a fractal, a spiral, a mandala, a cycle. And a child, playing with the same toy over and over again, lives in a single seamless moment from dawn to dusk. Visualizing temporality is a fundamental issue in interaction design today. For example, we are looking at a future where our work must be useful for both Eastern and Western audiences, who differ in time-oriented cultural traits such as long-term vs. short-term orientation. We also need to be able to provide tools to differentiate the personal, bodily-felt experience of time from clock time. We may want to expand our customers' perception of time, to invite them to stay in the Deep Present. Our beliefs about time and its passage profoundly affect the design of software and interactive media. It's time for interaction designers to understand deeply how our customers know time, whether as an arrow, a spiral or a squiggle. How people slice and dice nature into concepts is fundamental to designing tools people can use to successfully live on the earth, for a long time.
11th–15th March 2011