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Time flies? A Scientific approach to measure the Speed of Life.

Do you have the sensation that, as years pass, you are more and more busy? If you have recently found yourself wondering why you are more stressed than ever, feeling that time is slipping from your fingers, and you day-dream of the sensation of freedom that you remember having in your pre-internet life, you are not alone! The EuroTech Postdoc Programme sponsors this article, and it is co-funded by the European Commission under its framework programme Horizon 2020. Grant Agreement number 754462

Society

There is actually a well established line of research in Social Sciences and Humanities that has been discussing for years this idea that, as societies become more contemporary, there is an increasing sensation of rush, or in other words, an acceleration of the social construction of time. But, what is the social construction of time, you may wonder? Natural time could be defined as time rhythms given to us by nature, such as days and nights, seasons, or years. However, humans have developed different technologies, that have allowed them to alter those natural time-frames, granting them the ability to parse time into unnatural smaller units artificially created, such as hours, minutes, or seconds. This artificial segmentation of time has been labeled by some authors, as the social construction of time. Reinhart Koselleck, as well as many other scholars, have proposed the idea that the more technology advances, it is possible to parse time into increasingly smaller segments. Improvements in fields such as chronology, electricity, or transportation systems, allow humans to rush natural time into unnaturally smaller parcels, often with the aim of increasing productivity. The capacity of parsing time into progressively smaller units has created a sensation of acceleration. This means that, in the same amount of natural time, and due to the upgrading of certain technologies, it is possible to do more things. Let’s remember, for example, those days when it was only possible to work with natural light, and the revolution that electricity brought, as then it was possible to easily increase the number of working hours per day, and therefore, increase productivity. Another example could be improvements in transportation systems, that would allow carrying all sorts of goods faster and therefore quicken the connection of markets worldwide. Enhancements in chronology, communication systems, and broadly speaking, technology, therefore, allow humans to control time for their own benefit, and able them to accomplish higher rates of activity. Thanks to European Union funding research under the Horizon 2020 program, a group of investigators at the Technical University of Munich have found a way to measure the acceleration of life! The research project Time, Technology and the Press. A Study of Accelerations of Time Perceptions during the Industrial and Digital Revolutions (PRESSTECH), that counts with Dr. Elena Fernández Fernández as the Principal Investigator under the umbrella of the EuroTech Universities Alliance Post-Doctoral research programme, explores how the use of Text Data Mining research methodologies can be applied to newspapers in different languages to measure increasing rates of information compactness historically. In cooperation with Dr. Mirco Schoenfeld and Prof. Juergen Pfeffer, PRESSTECH proposes two different units of information measurement: Information Density (ID), and Information Variety (IV). Using some computational methodologies such as Quantitative Narrative Analysis and Network Analysis, PRESSTECH firstly defines a narrative unit as a Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) triplet, and then analyzes the increasing increment of both ID (number of SVO triplets) and IV (semantic context in which the narrative units take place), over time. The possibility of finding growing numbers of ID and IV in the press of different countries could be related to more and more things happening in real life. PRESSTECH’s method of measuring the speed of life has many research applications in different fields, ranging from Computational Social Science and Digital Humanities, to any discipline interested about detecting increasing rates of scientific innovation arriving to society, and information behavior analysis. PRESSTECH presents a highly important contribution to knowledge discovery and research excellence in the European Union. If you would like to know more, have a look at this research article: http://ceur-ws.org/Vol-2723/short17.pdf

Keywords

Digital Living, Information analysis, Computational Social Science, Digital Humanities