Technology is Speeding Up Our Perception of Time

November 24, 2015 | Elizabeth Knowles

Clock, time passing in a blur
Photo credit: stefanos papchristou/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

“A scientific reason to stop and smell the roses.”

We’ve all heard that it’s important to take time away from our computers and electronic devices to relax and de-stress. But is that really necessary? Aoife McLoughlin, a psychology lecturer from James Cook University's Singapore campus, has been looking into our perception of time while we are “logged in.”

It seems that people lose track of time while on their devices but think that they have lost more time than is accurate. “I’ve found some indication that interacting with technology and technocentric societies has increased some type of pacemaker within us. While it might help us to work faster, it also makes us feel more pressured by time,” she said.

She has found that, when people are connected to their devices, they tend to overestimate how much time has really passed. In her examples, people believed that an hour had passed, when in reality it was only 50 minutes. They ended up feeling more stressed because they thought that they had less time to accomplish whatever task they were working on.

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In an interview with ScienceAlert, she said: "It's almost as though we're trying to emulate the technology and be speedier and more efficient. It seems like there’s something about technology itself that primes us to increase that pacemaker inside of us that measures the passing of time."

She found this to be true of people using technology but also of people thinking about technology. Those who read an advertisement for the latest iPad believed that time had passed more rapidly than those who read from a non-technological novel.

She emphasizes that this is not necessarily entirely a bad thing. Technology can help us accomplish tasks more quickly and process information more efficiently. If we’re feeling stressed and moving more rapidly as a result, we may end up with more time than we thought we had.

On the other hand, stress is linked to heart disease, diabetes, asthma, obesity, and other medical issues. And just because we feel as though we have gained extra time, it doesn’t mean that we have taken the time to enjoy it.

Her advice: meditation, mindfulness, and understanding that time is not based on our perception of it.

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