Time Orientation and Media Use: The Rise of the Device and the Changing Nature of Our Time Perception

Time Orientation and Media Use: The Rise of the Device and the Changing Nature of Our Time Perception

Cláudia Barbosa (University of Aveiro, Portugal) and Luís Pedro (University of Aveiro, Portugal)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8163-5.ch004


Digital consumer devices have penetrated our everyday lives, providing a platform to—with great efficiency and easiness—solve problems, communicate and exchange information, participate in remote activities, and even socialize. This increasing popularity provides the impetus for a rising dependency, which translates into a growing number of hours spent with the various types of media available. However, while the time we dedicate to media increases (at the cost of other activities), the number of hours that we have available (per day, per week, per month, etc.) cannot, giving rise to media multitasking behaviors. Some studies suggest that time orientation—either as a cultural construct or an individual preference—can influence one's media use habits, predicting (or not) multiple media use. There are, however, other perspectives suggesting that media use can actually affect one's time orientation. This chapter will attempt to assess both of these outlooks.
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Speaking at a TEDx event in Stanford in May 2013, late Professor Clifford Nass described the relationship with media in an increasingly digital world, indicating that

every time a new technology or service appears, the first thing that happens is pretty obvious: it steals time from other information services. Movies stole time from books, radio stole time from movies, television stole time from radio, internet stole time from television, et cetera.

This phenomenon has been dubbed “partial media displacement”: as new technologies are developed, they may overlap or compete for the user’s attention or time, in those cases where the emerging media are perceived to offer the same gratification as the previous medium (Okazaki, S. & Hirose, M., 2009). If their pull is such, according to the authors, that they are considered to be more gratifying or more able to provide the users with further opportunities for satisfaction, they may replace existing technologies.

Also, as technologies evolve, the periods we spend using them tend to increase, overriding time that we usually dedicate to non-media related activities or as Nass indicates: “(..) media are seductive, so after they steal time from other information activities, they also steal time from non-media activities.” Cue in the all too ubiquitous image of families or groups of friends sitting around a restaurant table and typing away at their screens while waiting for their meal.

What occurs, however, in a highly technological society, where new technologies emerge faster and in a higher number than ever before? Nass states

we did whatever we do when we have too many things to do, and too little time to do it: we started to double-book media. But the rate of media, new media, gradually accelerated and then increasingly accelerated. So what did we do then? Did we give up? No. We triple- and quadruple-book media (Nass, 2013)

How does this translate into our media use habits and behavior in the saturated media society we currently live in, in which a screen (any screen) is usually only centimeters away?

Time is a recurring word in the above extract by Professor Nass, in association with media use: of the little time that we have, different media are said to dictate how we spend our time, even “stealing” it. Can media actually (re)define how we perceive time, and inspire new priorities?

This chapter has a particular focus on the relationship between time orientation and media use, in detail, the use of multiple media or media multitasking. Firstly, it describes current trends in the media landscape, which favor an increased use of media and a rise in multitasking behaviors. Secondly, it considers and presents references for the concept of time orientation, both as a cultural construct and as an individual preference. The link between different time orientations (polychronicity/monochronicity) and media multitasking is exploited next, by drawing on the work of several authors who investigated time orientation as a predictor for multiple media use but also by reflecting on the somewhat newer perspective of the influence of media on what would be the expected cultural time orientation.


A widespread tendency commonly reported is the increase – in the last decade - in the use of media, or the increased time spent with media, including a rise in screen time.

Ofcom, for instance, reported an uptake on all measures of digital take-up between 2005 and 2015 in the United Kingdom, with the amount of weekly online hours doubling (from 9.9 to 20.5) in that period. For the American market, Comscore reported, for the same reference year, that “total digital media usage has nearly tripled since 2010”. The European Broadcasting Union also highlights in its reports a steadily rise in daily viewing time per individual between 1996 and 2012 in Europe, while forecasting a gradual growth of all TV viewing time until 2020. A similar trend is presented for Portugal in Obercom’s Anuário da Comunicação 2017, where TV viewing hours, for example, rise from a daily average of 202 minutes, in 2000, to 284 minutes in 2017.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Mobilechronicity: Time orientation perspective, that places the emphasis of the use of the media, especially mobile media. Used by some authors when cultures described as primarily monochronic, exhibit polychronic behaviors, due to the use of mobile media.

Multitasking: Performing two or more tasks concurrently, in rapid alternation or rapid sequence.

Media Multitasking: Performing two or more tasks involving media, concurrently, in rapid switching or sequence.

Monochronicity: Time management perspective, which focuses on performing one task at a time. It can be both a shared cultural behavior as well as an individual preference.

Polychronicity: Time management perspective, which favors performing multiple tasks at the same time. It can be both a shared cultural behavior as well as an individual preference.

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