What Is Chronemics?

Does the way we perceive time affect technology design?

Chronemics is the study of how time is used in communication. Anthropologists focusing on chronemics look at cultural norms regarding time and the way cultures vary and converge around them. Chronemics branches out into other disciplines, too, such as the study of organizational behavior.

Clocks floating in a room

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Does Chronemics Matter in Tech?

Technology is often associated with efficiency, allowing users to maximize the work done in a given period. Time is an important variable and currency for agile startups and large technology firms. A technology solution that accounts for a user's unique orientation toward time can be a competitive advantage that allows your product to succeed.

Chronemics in Communication

Time is an important non-verbal cue that factors heavily into communication, particularly in the world of business.

Chronemics in technology communication provides key insights for management. For example, studies have taken large amounts of aggregated email data from big companies and analyzed the level and timing of responses. This research showed that the organizational structure can be accurately predicted by creating a hierarchy of responsiveness, placing the most responsive entities at the bottom of the organization, and the least responsive entities at the top.

The predictive power of these chronemic models could be used in designing future communication technology to account for the expected responsiveness of people who are communicating, based on their positions in an organization.

Chronemics and Time Management

Chronemics also factors heavily in the world of time management. Many technology solutions tackle time management in a uniform way, but chronemics has shown that time outlooks vary widely among cultures.

Many North American and Western cultures are considered to be monochronic—that is, focused on the sequential completion of tasks, in a structured and time-conscious way. However, other cultures such as Latin American and Asian are considered polychronic. These cultures are less focused on accounting for individual measures of time and more focused on tradition, relationships, and freedom.

Learn how to read the Julian dates and other old calendars.
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Multitasking vs. Single Focus in Tech Design

These cultural influences can play an important role in technology design for a specific user base.

Monochronic cultures typically value tools that increase focus, reduce distraction, and allow adherence to a structured, defined schedule. Polychronic cultures, however, value tools that allow for a wider, multitasking view of work. Tools that provide dashboard views or relationship statuses give polychronic workers the freedom to switch between tasks in response to shifting relationships and concerns over the course of a day.

The design of technology solutions is becoming more complex and nuanced. Current software and hardware meet the basic needs of users. The innovative technology of the future, however, will feature a design that truly addresses the subtleties of human behavior and fits into users' lives in intuitive ways.

Top tech designers are already looking to psychology and cultural study to make technology smarter and more useful. One such area is the anthropological study of chronemics.

Chronemics as a Design Advantage

The concepts mentioned here are just a few ways that the field of chronemics intersects with the world of technology. For the savvy designer or developer focusing on technology and time in communication, an understanding of chronemics can provide advantages.

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