Recently I have been having a few quandaries over real time in digital research, and thinking about temporality generally, not least because I have a research colleague in Australia and thus our interactions are always proceeded by sorting out time differences across continents.
Whilst we as digital researchers, marketers and digital enthusiasts talk about real time as in immediate, synchronous interactions, how many of our interactions are really in real time? Technology and how it interacts may be synchronous but how it is actually used may not be. Someone can send me a WhatsApp message but I may look at it five minutes later. An email can be sent, received but not read or responded to until after a cup of coffee is finished or a meeting held. On the other hand a Skype interview is synchronous and real time. Does it matter whether behaviour or responses are synchronous, near synchronous or asynchronous? Does synchronous versus asynchronous data impact on the quantity or content of that collected data? The ability to track real time online shopping behaviour is highly valuable for online retailers and their brands and the real time manipulation of promotional campaigns is a triumph of technology. However, as researchers do we require such acceleration and ‘nowness’?
Authors who have discussed technology’s impact on time and ‘nowness’ include Manuel Castell’s The Rise of the Networked Society in which Castell outlines the concept of flows rather than time where global interactions occur simultaneously and society becomes compressed by the speed of technologies transforming patterns of consumption, economic markets and societies.This technological determinism is argued against by Judy Wajcman, amongst others, who in her recent text Pressed for Time which emphasises how technologies are supposed to be freeing us and that citizens should revisit their relationship with time.
As a digital researcher what is my relationship with time, what is my temporality? Different research projects require data which may be real time or distant time. One of my doctoral students is considering complaint behaviour on social media concerning disappointing luxury experiences and grappling with whether she needs synchronous or asynchronous data. Do you tweet at the point of disappointment or do you email the brand a few moments later or do you write a poor review and post it on Tripadvisor days later? And furthermore what is impact of ‘nowness’ versus near now versus later on the research data generated?