LINEAR – Redesigning Time

1:   Mondays.

Journal Entry: 11–14–16:

Today is Monday. One week ago, it was also Monday. A month ago, a Monday occurred as well. Next week there will also be a Monday. And every week after that, we will have a Monday. Forever.

Our modern timekeeping tools seem to suggest that time, and indeed the cycles by which we define our lives, repeats itself. We’ve turned the work-week into a meme — Monday Blues, Taco Tuesdays and Thirsty Thursdays — and it seems that each week rolls into the next.

Life becomes a blur, a sort of watercolor with a bit too much water diffusing the shape and form, fading its once vibrant color. It’s Monday again.

Yet time passes by.

And the truth is that each moment in time is unique — so unique that one could wait for a hundred-thousand lifetimes, and no two moments would be the same. Weighed against the relentless passage of time, each moment is anticipated — experienced — remembered.

Tick.

Tock.

Journal Entry: 11–14–2016

Today is Monday, November 14th 2016. As I write this at 4 in the morning, I am listening to Jhene Aiko’s “Promise” on repeat and musing about the passage of time. I’ll post it to Medium then I get to try out my new memory-foam pillow! I’m exhausted from Squadratic practice (especially since Kiska kicked our butts.) Later today, when I wake up, I want to work on chatbot tech, send some emails, and then lap-swim in the evening with Jon.

One week ago, it was Monday, November 7th 2016 and the next president of the United States was still to be decided. A month ago it was Monday, October 14th 2016 and I was deciding whether I should buy candy for Halloween. Next Monday is November 21st, 2016 and I will be enjoying San Diego’s beaches for Thanksgiving.

It’s not just Monday — it’s 11–14–2016. Yesterday was 11–13–16, and tomorrow will be 11–15–2016…

 

2 :  It’s Monday again?

Early 2015 I set about seeking to understand how people perceived time, especially in regards to how they scheduled activities, set goals, and reflected upon the passage of time. While working on campus at UC San Diego, I had the chance to sit down with a number of college students. As a group, college students are notoriously busy with school, work, and social obligations. I was curious to understand how they would balance their time while still making the most of their “college life.”

 

UX Observing the passage of time.png

Among the interviewed: Daniel, a 3rd year computer science major, Joycelin a senior bioengineering major, and Nick, a pharmacy graduate school student. 

I began to notice some pain points common to all three students, who I will call users now, when it came to how they perceived and worked with time:

  • Users had poor mental models of large amounts of time, e.g. “How long is a semester?”
  • Users were aware of what day of the week it was (Monday, Tuesday, etc.) but found it difficult to keep track of how far they were into in the academic term, usually expressed by Week 1, Week 2, etc.
  • Users had a tough time sticking to their schedules over the long run, resulting in either not keeping a schedule at all or not updating them
  • Users were primarily fixated on meeting future deadlines and goals, not spending much time reflecting on the present and past
  • Users constantly expressed that “procrastination” was one of their largest obstacles

In general, the students demonstrated that while they were readily aware of what “time” it was, whether hour of day or weekday, they were challenged when asked to frame “time” in larger contexts of a semester or year. Procrastination was common, which makes sense because students found it difficult to contextualize the “now” within larger schemas like the “semester” or year.

Based on these observations, I believe that our current timekeeping tools fail us in contextualizing the passage of time.

3: Keeping Track of Time

Humanity’s early forays into timekeeping were necessarily based on analog, or real-world phenomena. One of the earliest forms included water clocks, appearing as early as 4000 BCE in China, which measured time relative to the amount of water that flowed out of a vessel. Sundials similarly tracked the real-time progress of the sun across the sky, marking the passage of a day. Finding analog methods of time tracking today is pretty difficult, however. To an extent we still have the hourglass included in the occasional board game, which keeps track of time relative to the flow of sand, and that’s about it.

We’ve now transitioned to monitoring the passage of time through primarily digital means – through digital clocks, clock faces, and electronic calendars.

clock-faces
Our digital timekeeping forms

In our switch to digital timekeeping, I suspect that we have lost our sense of context and the passage of time has become almost whimsical. In timekeeping’s current forms, we can readily see what time it is, but each moment is represented in a void. We become desensitized to the past, present, and future.

I believe that our digital representations of time should revisit our earliest analog forms, such as the water clocks measuring the flow of water, in order to lend a sense of gravity and context to the passage of time. Instead of portraying time as cyclical in nature, we should respect that time is a linear entity and seek to portray it as such.

Our timekeeping devices ought to remind us of the uniqueness of each moment, and do as much to avoid portraying time as cyclical.

4: Respecting Time’s Linearity

The timeline is a classic mental model with we think about the fourth dimension. Unfortunately, timelines are pretty difficult to represent in a practical and concise way due to time’s infinite nature. As a result, we end up with cyclical forms like the clocks shown above.

This isn’t the case anymore, however. With our digital environment, we can create original interfaces and experiences that can “traverse” the infinite expanse of time while still being contained within the screens of our digital devices.

In reference to a timeline, I wanted to create an experience allowing users to experience the passage of time first hand, as if peering into the horizon of a timeline. The horizon is constantly approaching, giving a literal interpretation to the inevitability of the future. The past is placed behind the user’s point of view, literally placing the past behind them.

I threw together a number of sketches of what this might look like, especially as a practical tool that could take the role of a watch, calendar, and a bit of a philosophical piece:

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-9-56-28-pm
A mock-up of Linear

 

5: Building Linear (iOS prototype)

I worked with a close friend, Eddie An, to build on my sketches and began the groundwork for an iOS app iteration. Using a series of perspective transforms and rotations we were able to achieve an effect that places users at the base of a timeline which steadily advances towards them with each second. We opted to represent time in its absolute format: “Year:Month:Date::Hour:Minute:Second” to really drive home the point that each moment in time is unique. (We would have opted for milliseconds as well, but the counter lagged too much.)

Set to Hans Zimmer’s “Time” in the background, Linear has a sobering and gripping hold as the clock ticks … and time advances. It begs you to consider each passing second – view it full screen and turn up the volume for the full effect!

Screen Shot 2016-12-22 at 10.10.50 PM.png

 

6: Looking Forward

Linear is by far not a complete project. Among our next priorities are:

  • Integrate iCal and Google Calendar to display events in your calendar
  • Create a live Web version viewable in a browser
  • Add to the effect by overlaying animated .gifs (created in Adobe Animate) and other art assets:

 

linear_3_loop_slow
Waterfall effect to be layered on top of Linear
screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-10-25-27-pm
Linear – set in space

 

I hope you enjoy Linear, and let me know if I should make publishing a live version a priority  🙂 ! As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.

 

© Alexander Chan and http://www.alexkchan.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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