Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Time we reimagined time?

We have cars to expedite travel, microwaves to speed food preparation, computers to process information, the Internet to provide immediate answers, and smartphones to make answers portable and immediate. So where's the abundant leisure time promised by technology? 

Time and all that it represents is on my mind because last week I watched a "busy families" focus group through the two way mirror.  Given the segment, it was no surprise that claims of being 'time poor' came up as the short-hand label for the state in which they found themselves, so this got me thinking about why we become victims to time. It is as if time is controlling us and we are left powerless to change. And as a marketer, this is why promises of 'time saving', 'convenience', 'simplicity' and 'freedom' are so often trotted out to our stressed and harassed audience.  Buy this and you will be able to live the life you want!
So time seems to be one of the most important concepts of the modern age, at least in developed nations, and yet we often do not reconsider what time means. Till now.  Enter two product concepts that caught my eye because both are reimaginings of the very representation of time - the clock.

The first is the Progress Clock by Brett M Westervelt that uses the behavioural principle of loss aversion as a call to action. As Brett explains,

"Many clocks are circular, conveying the sense that time starts over, or completely digital, giving the current time but not much more. Time is in fact fleeting, and once this day (hour, minute) is gone, it's gone. The Progress Clock is an attempt to help the user not so much focus on the exact time, but on how much time is left; with the hope of inspiring people to take advantage of any given moment."

Progress Clock by Brett Westervelt
The clock is effectively asking, are you making the most of each moment every day?  Unlike an hourglass where time is eroded as sand buckles to the relentlessness of gravity, this clock forces you to consider what you will do with the time you have left in this unique and precious day.  Confronting, isn't it?

The Present
The other is a clock called "The Present" that takes 12 months to complete its cycle. Designed by creative firm m ss ng p eces to keep people in the present by focussing on seasons rather than moments, Fast Company suggests that "...our obsession with small increments of time often keeps us from focusing on the bigger picture. The clock takes a year to complete a single cycle...Different colors represent changes in seasons--the winter solstice (top) is marked by pure white, pure green represents the shift into spring, pure yellow marks sun, and red marks the autumn equinox."  In a sense, The Present deliberately disorients our convention of measuring time in seconds, minutes and hours and as a result racing to complete tasks that are able to measured in such small units, to instead concentrate on creating experiences of real and substantial value.
The Present by m ss ng p eces
 So we have two different reimaginings of the measurement of time, both with the aim of helping us make more of now. The Progress Clock confronts us with how much time is left on the clock at this moment, and The Present focuses us on now in the context of the cycle of life.

Behavioural principles
Both clocks are being used to explore the behavioural principles of;
  • loss aversion, where we spend time doing the dishes and managing the routine because we are fearful of the chaos that may ensue if we trade the known for the unknown
  • status quo bias, where our current state is what we are used to and hard to break away from
  • framing, where convention is that time is displayed a certain, in-exhaustive way that perhaps frames our tendency to be wasteful. 
Will owning either of these clocks help busy families to make more of the present moment?  Probably not because both require contemplation and ultimately, reconsideration of the decisions that are creating the situation of time pressure.  And who has time for that?  But as marketers, can we use what these clocks are attempting to do to move beyond the usual rhetoric of 'time saving'? I hope so because it is important to our market.  Let me know your thoughts.

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