Time Text (General)

We sense the passage of time through a combination of psychological and physiological processes. Physiological processes, such as our beating heart and firing neurons, provide us with a sense of time. In addition, our brain uses some cognitive processes to keep track of the passing of time and to perceive it more accurately.

Using time allows us to index events and actions. Although we cannot control time, we can measure against it, which will give us an understanding lengths, frequency, and separation between occurrences. By defining lengths of time and times of day, we are able to keep a record of events, which allows us to plan and prepare for future actions and incidents. In this way, we are able to extrapolate from current conditions to understand what may or would happen in the coming hours, days, weeks, months, and years.

The diurnal cycle is a natural marker of time. The location of the sun in the sky shows the passage of time, and its disappearance gives us moments of separation that are discrete. This and our heart beat are our first understanding of time, and by subdividing this time, we are able to create smaller units that are arguably artificial, but that are very useful to provide a record and description of events.

In the contemporary age, we are driven by the clock, but even before now, we were always relying on time, whether perceived or actual. As we grow, we develop a sense of time that is innate, and for some this is nearly as accurate as a clock. We know when to wake up, we know when to eat, and we know when to sleep. We do not need to rely on a timing device–we are our own timing device. However, we can measure time to understand history and the likely future, and we can measure the frequency and types of events to gather a temporal density of occurrences.

Because time measures the change in space and context, we use time constantly. One would think we cannot have existence without time, as there is no change without it. Whether natural or artificial, we use time to have understanding and control of our environment, and if we are not able to have control, then at least we have witnessed the event and can plan for similar, future events. This perception of an action creates memory which we can recall to help or comfort us. To remember is a sort of log that allows us to grow and learn, so time is important for maturation and improvement, as well.

To experience time is to place oneself in an environment and observe and react to the changing conditions. Depending on our mental state, we can experience time accurately, similar to others, or we can have our own interpretation that is heightened by emotions. When we are bored we feel that time will drag on eternally, but when we are enjoying ourselves, time can slip away. Even though actual time is not accelerating or decelerating during these events, our perception shows time as ductile, able to be drawn out or compressed from our view of the world.

The sense of time is both personal and experienced at a distance. We can all read the changing natural and manmade mechanisms to give us a knowledge of time, but our internal, personal clock can slow or accelerate depending on our mental state and desire to be a part of the surrounding events. In this way, time can be seen as similar to sight and smell, which can sense at different distances.

The sense of time is not considered one of the five classic senses, although it is absolutely a sense that is tracked in the body. When would we know to sleep, eat, or drink, if we didn’t have this sense. Our ancient ancestors did not have watches or clocks, but they were able to sense time, so they would know when to undertake the daily processes.

Time is very different than taste and the forms of touch, in that it does not only operate with personal contact. Arguably, it is an abstract sense, as it is not the use and measure of an object, but the use and measure of the change of an object or objects. Yes, time occurs everywhere, but it is easily communicated or conveyed across any experiential distance–it is only needed to be experienced by an individual or individuals.

The best time to use the sense of time is when you are experiencing an emotion or emotional change. Although this can be both positive and negative, the ability to experience shows that we are part of time and that existence is real and concrete. On the other hand, the worst instance to use time is when being part of an experiential swamp or dead zone. The passage of time is like a heckler laughing at an actor in the middle of a scene without stopping.

There are many ways to use time to affect design. First, it is possible to use the sun, celestial objects, or a timepiece to encourage the viewer to think about the passing of time to evoke memories and thoughts about the future. On the other hand, the designer can deny any access to observation of time passing to create a timeless space or limbo. By creating a space that lacks access to the sun, et cetera, a space becomes temporally flat, with all acknowledgement of the passage of time lost or hidden. Alternately, we can use actions and occurrences to encourage the perception of the acceleration of time. On the other hand, limiting any actions or occurrences will perceivably slow time. It could even be possible to orchestrate a space to perceive time has stopped or is infinitely long.

Other ways we can use time in design is to explore and promote time as an aggregation of smaller units of time, or in opposite, we can suggest time as a smooth, continuous phenomenon. With this manipulation of the perception of time, we might even be able to look to the past and provide the impression of reversing time. How can we use memory and mental phenomena like deja vu to allow this to occur?

We can also manipulate time and our mental state, through work or meditation, to find the zone or groove. This is a possibility if the designer knows the interests of the user. This state makes time seem to disappear, while providing multiple systems or schedules at once to create multiple states of time which can create complex rhythms and syncopation of perception.

All of the possibilities above require the manipulation of the perception of time. In order to do this, the designer must utilize or deny the user’s access to the sun’s progress across the sky, clocks, or actions that occur periodically. In addition, the designer can provide more than one of the options in a given space to provide concurrent, but differing, measures of time.

Time is a phenomenon that just exists, but the designer can manipulate its perception through the introduction of spaces, objects, actions, and their repetition or reintroduction. Time must exist with the presence of matter, and its passage relies on an observer to experience the progress.

Using time is a very strong solution for design because it provides variation and change just through its presence and its illustration in a space. The morning light is very different than that of the noon sun, and spaces and objects will appear differently. Likewise, repetition or the introduction of a timepiece will create a different experience than letting nothing happen or change within a space.

Time can possibly be classified as natural real, synthetic real, natural perceived, and synthetic perceived. Natural real time is the passing of naturally occurring events in the world, such as the movement of the sun, heartbeats, and seasonal migration. Synthetic real time is the passing of time on manmade timepieces. Natural perceived time is the experienced acceleration or deceleration of time because of events and conditions in the real world, while synthetic perceived is also the experience of speeding up and slowing down of time because of incidents and context within the realm of the artificial timepiece.

The methods of time can be classified in multiple ways. Time can be measured as points on a continuum. It can also be a point in the future that we proceed towards expectantly. We can also understand time in lengths where conditions are nearly continuous with minimal change followed by shifting states. To add more variables, time can be measured against multiple timepieces with multiple events, or we can introduce the experiential perception of time as given above.

We must explore time in design and seek not only the real meaning, but the perceptual and philosophical meanings of time. By acknowledging the phenomenon, we can change our understanding of the elements and objects of design while also changing our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world. Can the designs themselves change? Of course. Should they change? Surely, the visitor would grow bored with a given design installation without some changes. These changes might be the update of parts of the assembly, the light that hits the work, but the design can also change through the change of the viewer through time. Memory is not continuous, and if we progress through time, aren’t we really different people? Aren’t the objects in a design perceived differently with time’s passage? Time could be a great ally in design.

In order to use time in design, the designer must have elements that can change. Without change, time is perceived as frozen or at least irrelevant. Beyond the elements of change, we must have a method to witness time passing. This could be a clock or natural phenomena. Otherwise, as mentioned earlier, the designer can omit a method of timekeeping to provide perceptual games of experienced time. Furthermore, the lack of changing elements will also alter the perception of time passing. Finally, another entity that can be used to make or alter the sense of time is the space itself. The space can either accept or deny the passing of time through how the phenomenon is placed upon the space.

To improve time in design, the designer must be conscious of the existence and use of time to alter our understanding of an installation or reality itself. Then, the designer must deliberately use time and items that are affected by time. Meanwhile, the installation must work well with the other parts of the design, and the use of time must not be a one-liner while melding with the other senses and sensory inputs. How do these other senses compare and contrast with time? How would the sense of touch work with time? It is an exciting game that the designer can play mixing and matching the senses with time, and ultimately it needs to work well with the the main idea or plot of the design. Without this, the design will lack a thesis or clarity, and each of the parts of the design will be independent and lack cohesion.

If the intended design were only time, then the overall effect would be limited to the continuum of time passing and the viewer. Is time apparent to the viewer? Is the viewer part of the experience of time? How does the presence of time affect the viewer? How does the viewer affect the passing of time? If the design is only time, where is it experienced? What is the space, or is there not a space? If the space is not defined or extant, how is the viewer experiencing this? Is it a virtual or mental exhibit, and how would it be conveyed to the viewer, if so?

If a design did not incorporate time, then the installation would be continuous, without change. In this way, the design would never fall out of fashion and would have persistence in the viewer’s experience. Modernism attempts to do this to limit the variation and perception of time by avoiding design elements that rely on or create fads and fashions. Instead, the design is what is necessary and without ornamentation. Would it be possible that decoration and elements of frivolity help define the passing of time? If so, how? Is it the style and method of thought that went into the design and application of these? Does the method change with time, thus the designs change with time? Furthermore, is Modernism actually a fashion, and has this fashion come to an end with new needs in the Twenty-First Century?

There are alternative uses for time. These include applying time to add texture and measure or mark an event by superimposing time on the object. As such, the new combination or amalgamation of the elements causes a third or other state to emerge. Another use of time would be time for time’s sake in that the viewer puts time at the forefront and all thoughts and personal change or development is reflected upon by the viewer, without input or change from other elements or viewers. In this way, the experience of time could be similar or possibly just opposite the idea of the groove or zone that we experience when fully committed to an action or task.

In order to use time on an existing structure, we must either provide or strip away elements that convey time. As mentioned earlier, this could be timepieces, solar or natural cycles, but also, it can be the incorporation of design elements that change over time. These elements might be moveable or interactive features, or they may be the ornamentation itself. Most items of material culture fall in and out of style, and the addition or removal of these can provide the intention of the designer, whether to adjust or simply understand the perception of time. Time is both the index and the indexed, and nothing truly can exist without the presence of time.

Exploring the use of the sense of time is exciting, and it can be evaluated quantitatively, providing the accuracy of timekeeping or perception versus real, defined time, and it can also be evaluated qualitatively, through written documentation about the experience and feeling occurring through the passage and measure of the time. In both cases, the evaluations can be completed with the use of a clock and a method of recording information and thoughts, such as a computer or pen and paper.


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