The Psychological Internet Time as Illusion

· Culture, Education, Internet, Journalism, Media, Society

The use of the Internet changes the personal idea of time

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An icon from icon theme Crystal Clear. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Summary: Why internet users have another idea of the passing of time? A single subject is doing many things at the same time and it divides the time in different vectors. It trains the brain to perform multi-task actions even in the real world.


The development of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) especially through the Internet has created a new world, the one we called web, cyber or digital world, as a separated reality. This is a matter of study by many areas and as we still in a very early stage; much things are under research in our time. Sociology, anthropology, psychology and many others are witnessing a revolution in humanity, while areas such as journalism, law, politics, culture, are overloaded by a tsunami of information that was unexpected three decades ago. We are in the post-industrial revolution, a time that goes from the industrial production to the reign of the service society and information (Bell, 1973). It changes also the mind of the peoples, divided by now between digital natives, digital migrants and non-digitals.   

The Illusion of Time

Albert Einstein taught us about the relativity of time. Although he is the genius of the relative theory, we can make an extensive study about time and how it has been the matter of reflection through the centuries, from the Chinese and Indians to the Greek philosophers.

The question of time is doubtless important to the question for the Being. Heidegger, for example, makes the study about time at the same level of the study of being. For him, time is a property that is reduced to the duration of movement and its intervals, while Hegel speaks about the intuition of movement or intuited becoming, reducing the time to the conscience or to the soul, following Saint Agustin, who stated the existence of three presents: the present of the past, the present of the present and the present of the future.

The ancient Greek philosophers talked about the becoming where time was a permanent change. In reality nothing is static, but dynamic, a flow of events. There is not a present, but now that is an ephemeral present. What is now comes to be past very soon. Becoming is a process of being or the being as a process. For this reason, we can find in many sources the opposition between being and becoming.

In Indian philosophy the man is subjected to natural laws. It is as one person standing on a river, while the water is flowing through his feet. As the water flows, he understands parts of true, he discovers the interior man. The history is just a flow. What remains is the real being, the one that is not altering.

“As time flows, this structure of fixed past, immediate present and open future gets carried forward in time. This structure is built into our language, thought and behavior. How we live our lives hangs on it.” (Callender, 2010)

Time and space in the industrial societies

The Internet revolution has affected things such as the conception of time and space.

The time is an illusion as this video of AskingScience shows. The time in rural societies is completely different of the time in industrialized societies, because that time depends on production. A family living in a rural farm in Kompung Cham, Cambodia does not have the same idea of time of a family living in Bangkok or Manila. They are completely different, even if they take lunch at 12 O’Clock, at the same time. For a rural family, time is slower, while a Bangkok family sees the succession of events in a very fast way. The speed of time for a Bankok viewer depends on the speed of production and the distances between his/her residence and the factory. It comes from the natural spots that measure time: in the rural areas, time is measured by the stars, moon, sun, seasons, harvest. In Bangkok, there is a clock everywhere, the train runs in a very precise time, taxis and tuk tuks go and come along big avenues, the hurry is everywhere to be at time for production.

In Buddhism to get conscience of the present moment is very important to reach the full awaken. It is actually a very important point for our busy life. The danger of the industrial time is that you lost the purpose of your life by running from station to station, from office to office, from agenda to agenda. There is not more time for you, because you have to fulfill compromises that come to nothing. When people get old in industrialized societies, they are put aside as useless and they are condemned to loneliness. Those persons, who were too much busy since they were teenagers to about 50 or 60 years old, are now sent to the boredom of inaction. Because they were never conscience of their own present moment, they do not know what to do with much time on their hands.

In Christianity there is also a point on the present moment:

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6, 34)

Evidently, it crushes with the mentality of the industrial societies.

Time in the information societies

The time in the information societies (post-industrial societies) differs very much from the one of the industrial contexts and it belongs to the new generations, the native digital generation.

At the industrial societies the hurry is for industrial production. Everybody is a clone of production, inserted in a chain, from the simplest worker to the most high collar boss. In industrial societies space is also very important. Persons are required to stay in a position, to keep their place, to move from one point to another in time. It pushed the development of urban and international transport to be able to move many people from one point to other of the world geography. Every century continents were easier to reach at any cost, like the Titanic rushing through the North Sea to overcome the spaces between Europe and America in a record time.

The Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are changing it. The digital migrants (those who are migrants to ICT) can prove it very easy. In the information societies there is not the hurry for mass production, because there is a big move to societies of services. In this sense, time is not more a worry. It flows near to that of the farms, although this comparison can be too daring.

People are connected 24 hours that means connected all the time. It breaks out the limit of time established by the factory clock. People work all the time and in that time, relates with others, deleting the limits between private and public, intimate and open. The subject becomes a multi-task performer: doing the report on a collaborative online document with his companions (some of them based in other cities or even countries), talking with his dear ones through a chat and surfing pictures in other tab of his browser.

Space has changed. In a near future places like libraries, offices, classrooms… will become museums. An office was a closed room where a manager stays for long hours of the day (8AM to 5PM), storing hard copies of information, attending clients, managing the staff. The ICT office is an IPhone or a laptop. Now you don’t need to go to the office anymore. It is possible to work from home, from the pool or a hotel or from the beach, provided there is internet connection. Companies celebrate already video conference meetings. In the future, international gatherings will not mean the physical moving of representatives from different countries, but the space-craft will be a huge connection to guarantee full participation – access, each delegation joining from their own country. Space became virtual.

There is no hurry anymore. The hurry is to be connected to any ICT terminal. People meet at the cafés in order to open their iPhones and chat with other people at the other side of the system. What they say? Why they don’t talk with the real person in front to him/her at that present moment?

The Internet is not a site or a simple mass media as radio and television. When a person watches television, this person concentrates to what he or she is watching. It is already an old practice. It will come soon that people will click links on their television screen. Internet is a big city with millions of streets to go through. It is the same as a virtual world like SecondLife where it is possible to adopt other identities and even fulfill dreams. Those shy young people, who find difficult to relate with others at school, are brave and challenging on Facebook or in any chat. One minute becomes one hour and it is the illusion of Internet time and the key for addiction. As there is not already a limit, as it is possible to keep on unending conversations, time runs slowly for the user, but faster in the real world.

An internet user changes his perspective of time. An external observer can conclude that an internet user has been for two hours on the internet and that it is too much time. But the internet user has the impression that he has been online for only few minutes. Time became virtual.

The reason could be in the multi-task dimension of the internet (the browser taps, the Windows, the different Software running at the same time, the variety of terminals such as iPhones, Tablets…) It is possible to start a conversation with someone on chat. This is not the same kind of conversations on real time where you get replies as soon as you pronounce questions. On a chat conversation, people can write down a question and get the answer anytime. This is a virtual conversation. The multi-task dimension creates many times. A single subject is doing many things at the same time and it divides the time in different vectors. It trains the brain to perform multi-task actions even in the real world. Because the subject creates in his mind many vectors of time, he ignores the real time and thinks he has been online for few minutes, although it has been hours.

The youth of the information society do not put attention to a single source of information (the teacher on the class or the father giving advice.) The most important is that a kid could follow what the teacher is saying, while looking online for complementary information (linked information) or chatting with a friend. It poses a problem for persons from the industrial time that want to focus on a single action (don’t lost time.) However, it is necessary to train well that multi-task tendency promoted by the ICT media. The key could be to create a real interaction between the multi-task actions. If the teacher gives a lesson about geography, he should encourage students to open different tabs, Windows and software about what he is explaining. Students can see how a Tokyo avenue looks like just watching a video clip on Youtube and it is much objective that reading a hard text on a book with old photos that cannot be clicked.

The speed connection is very important in this process. People will pay anything to have a speeder connection, because they want to go fast from click to click. Speed connection is like the means of transport in a big metropolis (metro). Then, a user can wait even the slowest connection when they are surfing the Internet. It makes that the eyes are fixed in the screen for a long time and the user lost conscience of it and the body position. The mind enters the net in complete manner, like going to the astral. The times for lunch and dinner, the time for going bed, the times for sport and study are already bounded to the time of Internet.

Focus on time

A good practice to recommend to young Internet users such as students and workers is to focus on time. It is necessary to make conscience a purpose in order to access the Internet. Doing this exercise can help very much to control the passing of time, while not getting lost in the streets of the Internet metropolis. What am I going to look online? For which purpose? For how long I will be online? Doing these questions help to focus the online activity.

Using the Bookmarks to keep useful links in order to return to them in a future search, learning how to profit in a good way the resources provided by the search engines, training in the practical use of social networks connected to the work or studies and many other sources that could facilitate the focus on time when you surf online.

Some practical recommendations in the education of children and young people of the digital era:

–      Train the youth to use the internet in established times and not anytime. “You have one hour to use the Internet is a good disposition to help them to distribute their time in a proper manner. Multi-task actions can divert the user from his/her original purpose. Why are you going to use the Internet? Which information are you going to look for? These questions are very important for young users of the Internet. There are three purposes: information, education and entertainment. As just as it is in real time, every purpose has its own time (Do you play football while doing your homework?)

–      Do not demonize the Internet in front of children and young people. You will be perceived as a barking dinosaur. It is usual that those who do not like the Internet are very ignorant about the million possibilities of the Internet in education, formation and culture. Internet, as any other means of communication, is a tool.

–      Admire the good works of the youth online (their blogs, social networks, designs and even their video games.) They will be ready to listen to your advice when you need to prevent them from a bad use of the Internet. It is important that educators know very well the Internet in order to prevent the children and youth from getting into online troubles. Digital migrants need to make this effort to be permanent updated on it. How much do you know about online security (hackers, virus, spies)? Are you well informed of how to protect privacy online? Do you know how to protect and prevent child and young children when they use the internet? Do you enrich and update your lessons’ master plan using the internet resources? Do you know how to use in a proper way an email, a search engine, a collaborative project, a cloud, a blog, a social network, a wiki…?

–      Give a great important to personal communication, sport, art, cultural activities (dance, theater, etc.) Integrate it with the ICT media in a proper way, for example, a football competition has its own Facebook and Twitter pages, with a Youtube channel, where the children and youth can follow the last updates, see the portray of the best sportsmen, their success (scores), interviews, etc. It will create a great interest in the football fields and tribunes, because every real action will be expressed through the Internet that is a natural field for your youth. Other ideas:

  • The school music band audio-blog.
  • The school web radio station.
  • The school troupe Vimeo channel with video clips of the last performances.
  • The Facebook page of the course (normally it becomes two: the one with the teacher that comes to be more official, sharing the homework, even notes, etc.; and the one of only the students.)

–      Be aware of online bulling. Educators should be familiar with the social networks of their students, as well as to get interest about what their students do online and how it reflects their own personal problems. Internet culture and ethics should be included in any school curriculum promoting tolerance, respect for intellectual property, the possible viral consequence of any online action (what it is said or share online, cannot be deleted) and thus to be responsible for what we do online.


  • Bell, Daniel. The Coming of Post-Industrial Society. New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1974.
  • Heidegger. The Concept of Time. Conference before the Theological Society of Marburg, July 1942.
  • Martin Heidegger (1927). : Ser y Tiempo (1993). Barcelona. Editorial Planeta-De Agostini. § 41. ISBN 84-395-2199-5.
  • Craig Callender (2010). Is Time an Illusion? The concepts of time and change may emerge from a universe that, at root, is utterly static. Scientific American Magazine, June 2010 Issue, pag. 156. Retrieved on October 27, 2013 from

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