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Tricking Time x Lucy Jameson

“All of us get the same time every day. And how we spend it is our choice. And we’ll go to the time bank one day, and they’ll say they don’t have any more time for us. Then we’ll say, 'Did we spend it well?'”

Dave Hieatt said this to us when we interviewed him for a pitch a few years ago and it’s haunted me ever since. Luckily I love what I do, but over the past couple of years, I’ve still become frighteningly conscious of the passing of time. Maybe it was the pandemic, maybe it was turning 50.

Anyway, I started trying to understand time better. Not Einstein’s theory of relativity, but our experience of time as humans. There appear to be two types of time. The time we experience and the time we remember.

The difference between the two is probably most obvious in the "holiday paradox" – the fact that time seems to rush past during a great holiday and yet it feels far longer when you look back on it.

Daniel Kahneman says this is an example of the clash between the "experiencing self" and the "remembering self". As a result of the differences, time warps in different ways.

It got me thinking that if we had a better understanding, perhaps we could trick time. Both for ourselves and for the brands we work with. So, how can we twist time?

Weirdly, your temperature makes a difference to how you perceive time. A US psychologist Hudson Hoagland discovered this when his wife was in bed with the flu.

Her high temperature made her think that time was passing faster than it actually was. The reverse finding has also been discovered with divers in the extreme cold. Their clock slows down.

Your emotional context is another factor. An hour in the dentist’s chair feels very different from the last hour before a pitch.

Meanwhile, there are countless reports of time slowing down in extreme ways when you are in fear of your life.

People recall every single detail of what they saw, heard or even smelt. The richness of these memories contributes to our sense of how long the moment lasted.

Research suggests it may also be possible to use mindfulness, meditation, and observing thoughts and experiences to heighten awareness of them in a way that seems to slow down the passage of time.

Finally, novelty is also critical. The neuroscientist David Eagleman’s theory is that our sense of duration is based on the amount of neural energy used.

Something new requires more energy to process. Eagleman says: “Time is this rubbery thing, It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, but when you say, ‘Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,’ it shrinks up.”

The more detailed the memories, the longer the moment seems to last. Whereas, the more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.

Our youth seemed endless because we had more new experiences. Meanwhile, it explains why time seems to speed up as we get older (and tend to experience fewer firsts).

It probably also explains why the first few weeks of the pandemic felt strangely long – because we were on high alert and learning all kinds of new stuff – but then as soon as we adapted (and had even fewer stimuli than normal), time seemed to fly past even faster than normal.

So, if you want to stretch your holiday this summer, do something different in week two or on the last day.

The lessons seem clear both for us and for brand experiences. If you want to stretch time or get people to spend more time with your brand, constantly seek out or create new experiences and find ways to get people to focus on them.

Kahneman’s "peak end" theory is instructive about this. If you don’t know it, look it up, it will be worth your while, I promise.

Ironically, most customer experience experts are so obsessed with creating a frictionless and streamlined process that they end up doing the opposite of this.

All too often, bland best practice erases any distinctive and differentiated moments with your brand.

Our CX team also look at creating positive friction – what we call Uncommon moments of impact. Like our most recent work for “Britain get talking”, addressing teen anxiety.

Breaking the fourth wall after the news, we asked people to take the time to talk about what’s going on with their families. Recognising the world is a lot right now and breaking through to connect with your teens takes time.

The more I’ve delved, the more I realise I’m not alone in my obsession with time. According to the BBC, the word time is used more than any other noun in the English language. We’d all love to control it.

As Claudia Hammond writes in her book Time Warped, “Time can be a friend, but it can also be an enemy. The trick is to harness it, whether at home, at work, or even in social policy.”




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