#D24 | Re-negotiating time

Ready to embrace the pace or longing to slow down?

10 min readMar 22, 2024

Written by Emanuela Cozzi with contributions by Antonio Grillo and Dominic Quigley.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

As part of our mission to humanize complexity, we at Tangity, NTT DATA’s global network of design studios, continuously question the role of Design, asking ourselves how it can help us overcome the challenges humanity has to face. We continuously develop our point of view to investigate how people, society, and the environment evolve.

To us, Design isn’t mere problem-solving. It’s no quick fix. Design is about deeply understanding the context, questioning the status quo and thinking critically to get to the root of a problem and discover all its connections and interactions systemically. While divergent solutions can be desirable, we believe that designs should always be intentional and based on real insights and needs rather than result from an ambiguous understanding of the context.

Tangity Directions is not yet another trend report but rather a collection of strategic observations on how we experience reality through a set of 3 lenses: human, societal and environmental. These observations are paired with questions and provocations to make you reflect, question the role of design, and spark your curiosity.

In Directions 24, we have investigated the topic of time, starting from an observation of the effects that the speed of technological advancements is having on our lives and the environment. Are we ready to embrace the pace or do we need to slow down?

Check out Directions 23 here

The perception of an ever-increasing speed

Time is something that we seem to be all measured against. How quickly can we make money? How fast can a company produce and prompt consumers to consume? In business language, people are often defined by the very word “consumers”, which merely refers to our ability to eat away resources.

Countries are measured against GDP; people are often measured in terms of speed of success (“30 under 30” rings any bell?). Even when aiming at a good deed, for example, the restoration of natural resources, speed is the main KPI we focus on.

This year, we at Tangity began to wonder: why is time so important to humans? What is the impact of speed on us, and on the world around us?

The relationship between technology and time

“How much are technological advancements increasing the pace of human activities?”

Artificial Intelligence is the technology that is most profoundly impacting the way we act and think, our perceptions, as well as our expectations: it can potentially impact not only the way we do things but also the way we perceive reality, including our perception of time.

AI is posing even higher expectations of speed: but what expectations do we have in terms of quality of results of AI-generated work?

Utilizing AI-powered tools in everyday life often means access to knowledge we don’t have, producing exhaustive results at the speed we want, or better said, at the speed we perceive is required of us.

Do we always wonder at what cost this speed comes? For example, how much energy and water does a simple chat GPT query produce? What will happen to our cognitive abilities as we increase the use of technologies? Are we safeguarding our physical health despite increasing the pace of human activities?

To untangle the understanding of this topic we want to explore the effects that speed, particularly speed dictated by business objectives and technological advancements, is having on:

  • Our physical health: how is technology helping us maintain or restore our physical health?
  • Our cognitive capabilities: is technology augmenting or lowering our cognitive capabilities?
  • The environment: how are we using technology to preserve our resources and safeguard the planet?

Time to restore our physical health

“How is technology helping us maintain or restore our physical health?”

The health tech industry, with frontliner Philips, has for a decade worked towards its vision of “health continuum”, increasingly moving towards prevention rather than cure. With technologically advanced tools and the use of data, diagnoses are possible not just in medical care centers, but also at home.

As technologists, we are excited about the positive effects of having unprecedented knowledge resources and intelligence at our fingertips: think about the increased availability of health services via apps and medical specialists that can be reached remotely, resulting in a drastically reduced timeline to a diagnosis.

We can not help but reflect on the fact that these means could be often used by a person in solitude, to restore their health in the quickest and most efficient way, that may never include the help of a physician.

Sickness is still viewed as a “defect”, a variation of a system — the human body — otherwise supposed to always be in top performance.

In the UK, the NHS is using big data to predict the optimal allocation of beds in hospitals. As any company, a hospital also needs to run on efficiency and a time is given to get diagnosed, to be sick and to heal.

  • Is there a necessary, ‘hidden’ time to heal that we are not considering?
  • Are we integrating home and hospital care experiences in a continuum?
  • Is technology inducing us to skip the necessary steps on the healing journey or is it helping us towards them instead?

A good example?

BIOVIA Generative Therapeutics Design is an artificial intelligence (AI) solution that automates the virtual creation, testing and selection of molecules which compose drugs. It allows to discover potential good chemical compounds running countless tests in a very short amount of time. This technology has the potential to save lives, making incurable diseases curable.

Time to preserve our cognitive abilities

“Is technology augmenting or lowering our cognitive capabilities?”

After a massive renegotiation of the social contract of work, happening after the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees no longer identify themselves only with their job role or profession. Many people have felt the need to regain time and, most of all, to make that time meaningful.

Experiments of a 4-day working week are gaining track. In the UK, for example, 92% of the companies that tried out this new work format continued autonomously after the study was completed. This makes us infer that some companies are questioning if there can be a more effective organization of time that helps them retain employee motivation and work-life balance.

At the same time, younger generations have some struggles of their own. Several studies are pointing to the long-term mental health consequences the pandemic has had on them, while they are experiencing little support on this issue and are trying to take the matter into their own hands. For example, among Generation Z folks in the US a tendency has been recorded to go back to more analog phones, such as Nokias of the early 2000s.

Technologies are becoming more pervasive in our work and our free time, so how can we ensure they bring value over discomfort? Are we using AI as an extension and augmentation of our capabilities, rather than a replacement?

Will we ever be able to apply the same level of critical thinking, if we no longer engage our cognition?

Are we going to get used to the comfort of the “good enough” answers provided to us by AI — at lightning speed?

A good example?

Speechify’s technology empowers dyslexic individuals by providing access to spoken versions of written content, enhancing reading skills, reducing spelling mistakes, and promoting language development. This way people with dyslexia can train skills and boost their self-esteem, overcome speech-related challenges, and become more confident and effective communicators.

Time to nurture our planet

“How are we using technology to preserve our resources and safeguard the planet?”

We are currently witnessing massive investments and continuous experimentation in the food tech domain. The challenge we are facing is to feed an increasing population (Earth might reach the milestone of 10 billion inhabitants in 2050, according to the United Nations) sustainably.

There seem to be different directions: some point to veganism as the best alternative for human and planet health and others seek a compromise by producing synthetic meat. Companies are searching for ways to scale synthetic meat production to make it economically sustainable, but we do not yet know what impact synthetic food might have on our health.

The Slow Food movement started in 1986 in Italy, born from a desire to keep local food varieties considered not only part of a culture, but a resource of wellbeing for each territory. Italy was the leading country in the attempt to raise the head against the speed that was destroying agricultural and culinary traditions, impacting the quality of food and well-being: it was soon followed by a movement that is now spread all over the world.

At the same time, the agriculture field finds itself split in a dichotomy: on one side, efforts are made to increase yield production with chemical and mechanical innovations focused mostly on single crops to maximize production. On the other side, regenerative agriculture and a revaluation of ancient rotation methods are gaining popularity, especially in the West. This latest tendency aims more at efficiency and production quality to nurture both humans and soil, but will it be feasible at scale?

We can not help but think of fast agriculture versus slow agriculture: will this weak signal be predictive of a return to a better relationship between humans and Earth?

  • Will the future see a localization or globalization of food production?
  • How will we think about and consume food?

A good example?

Solarfoods has developed a unique bioprocess which can grow a single microorganism, for example, protein, into an endless supply of edible food with air, electricity and fermentation. As we know beef is extremely resource-intensive to produce. Solarfood allows to detach food production from agriculture. Their promise is “Humanity will be able to feed itself with the most sustainable protein in the world: growing it takes just 0.1% of the land and 1% of the water that a similar amount of beef would.”

Soil Capital is developing a software-based model which analyzes a farm’s data and gives a projection of future profit/losses if certain regenerative practices are installed on the farm. The model compares a farm’s performance to neighboring farms in the region, making the potential gains more demonstrable for the farmer while exerting ‘peer’ pressure.

Conclusions: can design lead a ‘time reclaim’ revolution?

At Tangity, we have dissected and commented on the speed at which we perceive it and tried to identify why we feel it is the case and what effect it will have on our design practice now and in the near future.

Did you know that the way we perceive time is not universal? There is no single organ in our body to measure time, such as eyes do with colours and ears with sound. In fact, all of our senses are involved in assessing time and we still do not know which part of the brain is involved in the assessment of time, making it a mysterious part of our neuronal functioning.

So why do we perceive that we are going too fast? It might be because we are crossing natural boundaries in using our planet’s resources, and we struggle to pinpoint the cause of our health issues.

According to sociologist Hartmut Rosa, we feel social pressure to maintain our societal status quo, which our economic system is based on. To keep our wealth, we need to increase the pace at which we produce and consume, which reflects on all human activities. This is making us experience alienation, not only as individuals but as a society; we are experiencing a lack of vision, of a more profound meaning to our lives, and a lack of power.

Time seems to be the most valuable currency, our core parameter for measuring value.

We gave up quality in exchange for time, and technology has assisted us in doing so (think of MP3s substituting viniles, smartphone photos substituting dark rooms). But what can the future look like when we compromise relationships and trust for “good enough” quality?

What are we afraid of losing by slowing down? Who are we competing against? Is it due only because of our greed, or do we have deeper fears of a sense of worth?

Design is at the forefront of technology concepts and creation, nowadays recognized — or even self-appointed — as the discipline responsible for guiding the reconciliation of social desirability, technical feasibility, economic sustainability and ecological accountability.

To regain our time, we believe designers needs to take a stand. “Just slowing down is not enough — we need a vision of a non-alienated world”, as Hartmut Rosa says. This vision could be for designers represented by the paradigm of Slow Design.

Slow Design aims to bring Design out of the competition of an “increasingly accelerating game of technological progress, brand positioning, and commercial globalization” (Strauss & Fuad-Luke “The Slow Design Principles”). “Slow” is not an absolute term; it refers to an appropriate dignity and justice re-given to the design cycles so that the results are better products that are sustainable by Design and fit with societal and individual needs.

The designer himself becomes the boundary, both spatial and conceptual, to re-establish the sense of autonomy that we believe will benefit the profession but also contribute to personal and social empowerment.

This new set of responsibilities urge designers to:

  1. Consider the impact of time

Setting the boundaries on the perspective of a person, society and environment

2. Advocate for time justice

By seeking to understand how technology is impacting other fields improving or disrupting the time allocation to their core processes.

  1. Act as the balance keeper

By leading and mediating the conversation and the action, ensuring the collaboration among groups as well as the prioritization of the most urgent challenges

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We are a global network of design studios, enabling positive impact through tangible and intuitive solutions. We humanize complexity. Website → tangity.design