Our responsibility with Time Well Spend

A pamphlet on why we have to stop waste each other’s time

Not that long ago the discussion about Time Well Spend dominated tech blogs, Medium and even feature sets of the new Android and iOS versions. We blamed companies for stealing our time by deliberately addicting us to their products. We criticised and they answered by offering a bunch of potentially helpful features.

But this discussion made me think: What is our own responsibility in this matter? For the sake of the point I’m trying to make I’ll keep this article as short as possible.

In today’s world time is one of the most valuable resources we have. We agreed amongst ourselves that showing up on time is important. It shows that you value other’s time just as much as your own. For Elon Musk, unnecessarily occupying someone’s time is even considered as rude. When we don’t directly face each other, we do not seem to reflect on our behaviour that extensively.

There’s one example which particularly nags me: Voice Messages. Facebook introduced the functionality of voice messages to their messenger back in 2013, closely followed by WhatsApp, and a year later by Apple in iMessage. Since then they have risen in popularity and are now used by people in their daily life as a method of communication.

Voice messages have some design flaws (which I will address in a future articles), but they are in general a nifty feature to use. You simply hold a button, speak your message into the microphone, and it automatically gets sent as soon as you release the button. No longer is there the need to tediously type your sentences, correct typos, and add emojis to express the mood you want to convey. Easy, right? Well, yes — but perhaps a little bit too easy.

The time you save preparing the message has to be compensated by the other party. For example, let’s say you record a one minute message for a friend. You just spent a single minute recording and sending the message, however your friend has to spend another minute to consume the message, which would’ve taken possibly 20 seconds to read if in text form.

Therefore, the voice message forces him to use his phone in a specific way. Depending on the situation this can become inconvenient, for instance in a noisy subway, a quiet lecture, or when your phone is connected to the shared bluetooth speaker of your office. You can’t search a voice message, so if it contains something specific or important like an address or a shopping list, you might have to spend even more time later trying to find it again. You can let Siri or Google read your last message to you, but not the other way around.

Of course this is just a very small and quite explicit example, but I think it represents a behaviour in the digital world we should think more consciously about. If it’s the YouTuber who makes a 15 minute in-depth review of a product, just to slip in around the middle that he actually didn’t test the product in person but rather reads the spec sheet out loud; the news article that unnecessarily stretches the content over multiple pages; or your otherwise lovely college Kimberly who just ignores the defined Dropbox structure, forcing everybody to search for files and clean up after her.

We are stealing each other’s time, in the latter examples even more than in the one-on-one conversation. But how much responsibility do all of us have in this matter? Are all design flaws that should be tackled by big companies or is this something we have to fix ourselves?

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Designer, Maker and Researcher, currently located in The Netherlands.

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Frederik Ueberschär

Designer, Maker and Researcher, currently located in The Netherlands.