David McGillivray

Professor, interested in events, culture, digital participation & sport.


Free time, acceleration and fear of the digital

I’m just back from (not so sunny) Portugal having attended the Third Global Congress in Cultural Studies, hosted by the Universities of Aveiro & Minho along with partners from the University of Deusto (Spain) and Fortaleza, Brazil.  With the theme of ‘Leisure and Free Time in Contemporary Culture’ and with a panel session on ‘Lifestyles and Contemporary Acceleration’ I thought it would be interesting to put forward the idea that ubiquitious digital technologies provide the means to accelerate mega event narratives, enabling a wider group of people to influence the reporting of these events using the power of the device they carry around with them in their pocket.  I presented on this theme and you can get a gist of my thinking via the slides, below.

One of the enjoyable features of the Congress was seeing my paper being translated into Portuguese and projected onto the wall next to my slides so that those less fluent in English could get a feel for the trajectory of my argument.


The other element of the Congress that captured my attention was the almost universal suspicion expressed in presentations and in conference papers about the implications of acceleration and time squeeze for the very future of humankind.  So, the argument went, that the more we rely on technnology, the less time we spend ‘at leisure’, enjoying the spiritually-enriching and life enhancing qualities of ‘doing nothing’.  Now, whilst I admire those theorists of Leisure Studies who explore the relationshio between work and non work and explore the philosophical roots of the concept of ‘leisure’ historically, that does not mean that we should avoid addressing the challenges facing the present with a critical eye. Too often presenters decried the superficiality of the present, the poor choices made by young people in contemporary society and the lack of meaning accruable in a period defined by velocity interactions and speed.  There were far too few contributors (in my view) taking as their starting point that the digital world may provide opportunities to rethink the unsustainable separation between work and non-work, foster more frequent (and perhaps more meaningful) conversations between friends and family and act as a democratising medium for citizens in a wide range of contexts.

Anyway, when I stood up to present, I provided a more optomistic, perhaps cyber-libertarian perspective on the way that every digital technologies (smartphones, flip cams, social media networks, etc) can be used to circumvent established media narratives and enable on the ground reports to influence the stories we listen to, watch or create every day.  I argued for more leisure studies research into co-created leisure cultures and the codes, rules and behaviours that govern these ‘new’ spaces in the same way ‘old’ leisure pasttimes were structured.  It went down well – from what I can tell – and I think some delegates left and switched their smartphones on, downloaded a social news app and perhaps even thought about asking their son or daughter how Twitter ‘works’.  The fear won’t dissipate that easily, but I think the moral panic over acceleration and speed my have been diluted somewhat…

David McGillivray • February 5, 2013

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