The Design of Time


Our friend Esko Kilpi from Finland has been thinking about the design of social media. He is struck by the fact that we largely use physicalist metaphors to talk about what is actually a temporal phenomenon. This can prevent us from focusing on the most essential aspect of a social network, namely the ways people influence each other over time:

It seems that many approaches to interaction design fail because they end up excluding these influences. The claim here is that it may not be appropriate at all to think about digital action in terms of spatial metaphors: spaces and walls. In the digital world things happen and develop in time. Spaces don’t normally have a dynamic, temporal aspect. Walls are typically not transparent – outside of Facebook.

He points out that interactions are processes, becomings, and people are beings, both unfolding in time, not necessarily arranged like lattice points in a grid, not best represented in a network diagram, nor even mapped through a social graph. Yet we are locked in an old parlance of what design means, and this can have pernicious effects for how we think and what we do. Design may have come out of an age of materiality, manufacturing and spatial definition, and may therefore carry with it the legacy of that way of thinking, but this is all to our detriment. If we wish to see things as they really are today, and if we seek to more clearly think about how they could be, we need to further clarify the terms of our thought.

For a while now, I’ve been thinking and talking about design as an expression of intentionality, usually accomplished via a medium of some kind, be it ever so crude as the scratching of one stone upon the other. Kilpi is beginning to articulate a further truth, I think: in the design of interactions such intentionality has its object multiple consciousnesses and their progressive interaction. We are now the medium of the message.

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1 Response to The Design of Time

  1. Ayesha Vemuri says:

    Thank you for these very interesting thoughts, Aditya. Are there any writings by Kilpi that you could point to, that delve further into this idea of social media as a temporal phenomenon? It makes a lot of sense, but I haven’t seen this idea articulated before, and I’d like to know more about the concept.

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