At that event there were a couple of questions in the Q&A that could only be answered briefly but deserve a fuller response. Both are issues that we have researched in the past and the question is how, if at all, has our understanding of both has changed as a result of our new international time-use study.
The first is the concept of the 24 hour society (an issue I co-authored a report on in 2003). Here, a question from the audience concerned the physiological impact of activity at hours that would have previously been considered abnormal. The second question was whether there was perceived to be any status conferred by working long hours. This, we cover in a subsequent blog (Busyness as a Badge of Honour).
While, clearly extended hours have been one of the greatest changes in retail and leisure over the last 10 years, the 24 hour society hasn’t developed to quite the extent that we, and others, imagined all those years ago. While not completely comparable the new research suggests that working during the night has not increased since 2000 except between the hours of 1am and 4am. Presumably, those working in the middle of the night are servicing the massive growth in internet shopping and the logistics related to their delivery to homes.
Shopping, as we all know, has increased significantly in the evening as shops (and grocers in particular) open later. But again, few people (in fact no-one in our survey) was shopping in the middle of the night.
While 15 years ago we were optimistic about the growth of the 24 hour society, we forgot (as others did) about one important thing – the human body’s own internal clock.
The circadian rhythm is a cycle that tells our bodies when to sleep, rise and eat and other physiological processes. This internal body clock is affected by environmental cues, like sunlight and temperature.
This phenomenon is why the Oxford University research programme (of which we are just part of a much larger project) includes an element looking at the physiological associations and implications of different time activities. A key element of this is working with the one of the world’s experts on sleep, Professor Russell Foster (check out his TED video at ). By understanding the effect on, and constraints of, our own bodies we can understand better what people do and when they do it.
All this is important in understanding why people say they feel so time pressured so much of the time. Increased affluence, a breakdown of traditional constraints to behaviour (eg, gender roles) and the development of an ever greater range of leisure activities has increased greatly the scope of the opportunities we have to use our time. Our belief and hope 15 years ago that the 24 hour society would unleash a whole range of new opportunities for countering the inevitable time pressures (or perceived time pressures – see forthcoming blog on Busyness as a Badge of Honour) was unfounded. Without extending the day greatly, we inevitably feel time pressured because we have the means to, and want to, do a whole gamut of different things.