Jeremy Rifkin, Time Wars: The Primary Conflict in Human History

A summary of — and a response to — an excerpt from Jeremy Rifkin’s Time Wars: The Primary Conflict in Human History.


Rifkin talks about the two ways of timekeeping that have evolved in human society: “computime”, a digital means of keeping track of time that deals with infinitesimally small time intervals that humans can’t directly perceive, and an ecological time that remains intimately connected to the rhythms of nature. He talks about how we are increasingly moving away from a natural way of experiencing/perceiving time to one that hands over the control of our time perception to computers. He also talks about how our interaction with computers — and both our wide-eyed acceptance of them as well as their seamless integration into our lives — is changing the way we interact with our immediate surroundings. Evidently, “computer nerds” are increasingly growing uncomfortable with social skills and becoming impatient and abrupt in their interpersonal interactions. Growing children are exposed to the world through computer screens, divorcing these important and formative experiences from the wealth of sensory information that comes with interacting with nature directly. He presents a history of the way humans have interacted with — and perceived — time through the ages. He seems dissatisfied with the way things are turning out in the postmodern information age. He seems to believe that we are alienated from our own biological rhythms.


The excerpt seemed very outdated and, even though I agree that we need to be skeptical of new technology, this kind of Luddite rejection of it seems nonsensical. Any intelligent species, as it develops, will move away from crude/”natural” ways of doing/perceiving things to those that might seem very artificial. This evolution in itself seems very natural to me, and not as harmful to either the development of our instincts or the way we interact as he makes it out to be. Our biological processes themselves, at a fundamental level, operate on the microsecond scale. Besides, our biological limitations will forever keep us from truly “living” in the nanosecond realm. Rifkin’s predictions seem to have turned out to be incorrect. We do have less time now, but I’d attribute it to an industrial way of thinking — to an urge to be productive/efficient — rather than computers in and of themselves. As humans evolve, our time will become more valuable economically, and it’s only logical that we should maintain more control over what we spend it on. I would contradict Rifkin by citing the example of “Pokemon Go” — which gives us a fair idea of how augmented reality would change or lives — and how it has drawn many out in the open. These users are still interacting with the “natural” world, with only an “artificial” layer added to it. Interpersonal interactions would have changed over the years anyway, regardless of technological development. It’s foolish to assume that things would always remain unchanged, or that any sort of change would be unnatural.

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Vasudha Pande

I move in the direction of maximum magic.