Recently, I reconnected to my twitter account, created five years ago and never used since then. As I am constantly looking for new sources of daily news, I thought that using Twitter more systematically could be relevant (although I have to confess, I am still struggling with it...) I also wanted to experiment and see how I could use this platform for keeping track of everyday insights emerging through my online readings. The experiment is just starting (you can check my account @alhadeffjones)
As I explore and discover more tweets and more people tweeting everyday, I am experiencing mixed feelings that seem to be quite common nowadays: the excitement of discovering new people (but not necessary new ideas) and the depressing feeling that keeping up with the pace of social media runs against other rhythms of my life (e.g., the pace of family, intellectual and working lives). This feeling in itself is not particularly original; it definitely reveals a broader ambivalence about current technologies of information and communication, already well documented in the media.
The ambivalence of a medium
What seems relevant to me, at this stage of my experimentation, is to try to keep this tension alive and to question the deeper meanings it carries. On one hand, the need for novelty, fresh insights, connections and the excitement of instantaneous connections; on the other hand, the need to consolidate what is already there, to preserve oneself, and to embrace the duration of long term perspective and lifelong development.
The problem is not so much about choosing between one or the other. The issue would be rather to learn how to regulate between openness and closure, instantaneity and duration, excitement and boredom, etc. Those are interesting "motifs de dualité" (Bachelard, 1950) that are constitutive of the everyday rhythms of our lives (sometimes we feel the need to be connected or stimulated, other times we prefer to remain on our own or quiet).
Defining temporal neurosis
Being able to regulate the way we relate to those aspects of the everyday life cannot be taken for granted. Pain and suffering can emerge from the difficulty to manage such ambivalences when they take larger proportions (e.g., compulsive behaviors). For that reason, it may be important to name the phenomenon characterized by the difficulty to regulate such tensions.
As I describe it in Time and the Rhythms of Emancipatory Education (Alhadeff-Jones, 2017), Gaston Pineau (2000) refers to the term "schizochrony" (from the Greek: schizo- meaning split; divided; and chronos, time) to express the tensions people experience when confronted with conflicting temporalities (e.g., family versus working time, biological versus social rhythms), or when we feel subjugated by rhythms that are imposed on us.
The tensions experienced when using social networks, such as Twitter, are of different nature. I think it may be relevant to use the expression "temporal neurosis", in allusion to the meaning given to this expression in psychoanalysis, to go further in the description of such phenomena. The notion of "temporal neurosis" stresses not only the conflicting, but also the ambivalent nature of the temporal tensions that may be experienced in the everyday life, for instance through specific behaviors experienced as symptomatic. Temporal neurosis constitutes a specific expression of "temporal conflicts" (Alhadeff-Jones, 2017).
Revealing our ambivalences toward the experience of time
If the notion of schizochrony suggests deep temporal clivages, the idea of temporal neurosis would rather refers to the state of tension and inner conflictuality that people may experience when considering the complementary, antagonistic, and contradictory nature of the rhythms that are constitutive of their own activity. Temporal neurosis is expressed by those moments when we wonder whether we should keep up with a specific pattern of activity (e.g., checking one's email or Twitter feed), change its frequency (to slow down or to accelerate the way one relates to it), or more radically introduce some kind of rupture in such habits. The term neurosis would suggest therefore a conflict between pressures coming from within (e.g., desire, repulsion) and from the outside (e.g., collective expectations, requirements).
Temporal neurosis should not be conceived strictly as a psychological phenomenon revealing personal ambivalences or inner conflicts. It should rather be conceived as socially produced by the everyday experience of temporal dilemmas imposed on us by the institutions we live through (family, education, work, etc.) From that perspective, the current development of social media is just reactivating temporal dilemmas that have been present earlier in the history of our society. Temporal neurosis represents therefore an 'update' of older forms of symptomatic ambivalences.
Now that the ambivalence is labelled, the question that remains is how do people and institutions learn to deal with such dilemmas and internalized conflicts? How do we learn to manage our own ambivalences toward the costs and benefits of new technologies and the rhythms they impose on us? How do we learn to avoid being captive of an hegemonic temporality (e.g., being stuck in social media) and maintain flexible rhythms of activity?
Some choose to stop using the platform, other keep struggling... what about you?