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Surrender To The Stream, And Be Happy

Streaming apps — based on the open follower model, or variants of it — will be the dominant motif of the web for the foreseeable future. And this is having an impact on everything that touches it, including our sense of time.

A great deal of research has shown that that our perception of time is quite malleable. For example, we have all experienced boredom as making the clock slow, and, an the other hand, how time seems to move more quickly during periods of happiness or excitement. Can this be exploited to make work more fun?

Robert Levin, A Geography Of Time

Psychologists and planners have sometimes used the “time flies” phenomenon to their advantage. In one project, for example, psychologist Robert Meade was able to improve workers’ morale by speeding up the psychological clock. Meade took advantage of the fact that that time is experienced as shorter when people believe that they are making progress toward a goal. The sense of progress, he found, can be enhanced through simple procedures such as establishing a definite end point to the task and providing incentives to reach those goals. Before his experiment, Meade herad comments from workers like “It sees like the day would never end” or “It seems like I’ve been here all day but it’s not even lunchtime yet.” After establishing a sense of progress there were proclamations like “The day went by so quickly — it seems like I just got started.” It is difficult to know, of course, to what extent speeding up the passage of time led to a more pleasant experience  or vice versa. The direction of cause and effect, however, is less important than the net effect on workers’ well-being. Employers might be pleased to note that these increases in morale are often accompanied by accelerate production.

Management may have a hard time accepting the soft benefits of time compression and the way that tools modify our consciousness, but they will readily accept improvement in productivity and work attitudes.

One of the effects of participating in open streaming apps (like Twitter) as part of your workday, or the use streaming apps specifically designed for business use (like IBM Connections, Yammer, or the myriad other offerings) is how it shifts users’ perceptions of time, in the way that Meade research suggests.

Simply by providing a context in which users establish what they are working on, and posting notes about their progress — or asking other for help to make progress — and receiving feedback as they make progress, workers using streaming apps are likely to experience time as moving more quickly. This is either associated in our minds with other experiences that make us happy, or directly makes us happy. In either case, it seems fairly obvious that users are happier when exposed to social work contexts with these characteristics.

Management may have a hard time accepting the soft benefits of time compression and the way that tools modify our consciousness, but they will readily accept improvement in productivity and work attitudes.

Note that incentives can be amazingly minimal: just the positive regard of close contacts can be enough.

And the same holds true in our activities outside of the workplace. To be happy, it seems that we simply can share our near-term goals and our progress in reaching them with our friends and family in real time, not just stretched over weeks or months. Learning how to knit, or play the blues, or performing your next Karate kata with a groups of similarly involved others makes time pass more quickly.

There is also ample evidence to show that we learm more and make better decisions when we are engaged and happy, too. so this turns out to be a fairly virtuous cycle.

So, the next time someone suggests you are doing something childish, illegitimate or almost immoral by Twittering what you are up to, tell them about Meade’s research. And then get back to the stream.

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