Leap Day: Time measurement in an Internet age

In years past I’d ignore February 29th, leap day, since it didn’t impact me in any way. Not this year, however, since we’re living in an Internet-connected age causing time to become increasingly irrelevant.

Measurement of time is all about being in synch. Since the Earth is just slightly off from a 365 day orbit around the Sun, (to be precise 365.242190 days long), a leap year has to be added roughly once every four years to make sure the calendar remains a valid measurement of a year.

Without measurement of time, getting things done, shipping goods, transporting people, having a church service with everyone showing up together, coordinating and orchestrating process and methods, and just about everything we accept today in a functioning society would be impossible. Without time measurement, something as simple as meeting your friend for a drink after work would likely result in you sitting and waiting…and waiting…or missing your friend altogether.

The germane aspect to this exponential growth in the world getting Internet-connected is the need we’re seeing for ever tighter synchronization between people (calling someone on Skype on the other side of the world means being aware of Greenwich Mean Time and what each other’s time zone is so you’re not calling them at 2am) as well as between machines performing transactions (e.g., financial markets open at various times in the world means any machine in the financial value chain has to be synchronized).

But we’re also seeing less need for synchronization (i.e., asynchronous) with activities previously required to be in synch.

To understand what it means for time measurement to become less relevant, let’s first think about synchronization activities pre-Internet vs. the asynchronous ones post-Internet and yes, I understand this is by no means an exhaustive list!:

  • Education:
    • To be educated meant moving your atoms (i.e., your body) to a classroom to be taught and you had to be there when the bell rang and stay through the day until it rang again
    • Today we’re increasingly enjoying on-demand learning with courses offered virtually and taken as either the need arises or when the student’s time allows
  • Work:
    • In the old days, most people worked on farms in agrarian economies around the world until the industrial age hit. Then a shift occurred and a majority of us went to work in factories or offices and had to be there when our shifts began and stay until they ended
    • Today more of us work wherever and whenever we choose since we’re always-on and always-connected. Fluidity in work and the blurring of lines between on-n-off the clock is becoming the norm
  • Entertainment:
    • Many examples, but one is the experience of watching a broadcast television event and talking about it at length the next day at work or school.  Having a shared experience meant watching the show when it was on
    • Today our consumption of television is increasingly asynchronous and we can watch it whenever we happen to be connected on a ever-growing array of device types in a true, on-demand way. A shared experience now means you’ve seen it somewhere (posted on a blog, someone’s MySpace page, or in a video aggregator site maybe under “Most Popular”) and you’ve watched it when it was convenient
  • Social connections:
    • We’d write letters or make that rare (and expensive) long distance phone call to friends and family or see people socially when we could synchronize our schedules
    • Now we connect via our social networking activities and can stay up-to-date (and connected) with both tightly connected friends and family as well as the loosely connected casual acquaintances more of us are adding to our ‘friends network’.

This acceleration in asynchronous connection is making time less relevant simply because we don’t have to be in a place or at a time when something happens to be available or we’ve arranged to connect with others at a specified time or place.

Of course there are thousands of exceptions to this that make time relevant and will for decades: the airplane leaves regardless of you being on it or not; that eagerly anticipated party Friday night; the concert starts if you’re there or not; and a recorded-on-DVR Super Bowl just isn’t as interesting as the real, live event.

But the fact remains that there is less pressure to be in synch and the measurement of time is becoming less important. I’m finding more of my clients accepting (and enthused) about my management consulting focus on outcomes vs. “how much do you charge per hour and how many hours will this take?” sorts of discussions. Doesn’t matter what I charge per hour if the outcome is fabulous and the worth of my involvement makes a huge impact. As such, time measurement matters only in our agreed-upon milestones and end-date for the outcome but the result(s) are what matters. Takes A LOT of stress out of the process and helps everyone within it be more contemplative and thus better work and outcomes result.

Let me end by connecting this to you and tell you why I think considering this downward relevancy in time measurement might help you when you think about your future.

If you’re going to school, stay open to possibilities of gaining the knowledge and information you need virtually. Connecting up with instructors and peers that give you the chance to do so asynchronously will pay great dividends.

If you’re offering a product or service, shift your thinking to that of the growing number of humans connected to the ‘net and working, communicating, socializing, being entertained and learning in an on-demand and asynchronous way. If you DON’T offer your stuff in this way, eventually you’re out of business since people want it, when they want it and wherever and whenever they need it.

Then do the opposite to stay balanced.

Friends and family are what matters so do this as often as possible: schedule a precise time, get everyone together, build a fire, serve great snacks and just hang out. It’s that sort of non-virtual, shared human experience that’s vital if any of the asynchronous, Internet-connected stuff is to be effective in our lives.

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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