Cheating time

Future time perception

RNfinity | 14-08-2022

Cheating Time -Time fascinates. It only seems to travel one way and sadly off course it is finite.

The differing perception of time is a much-studied phenomenon. It is well known for example, that the duration of an event may be perceived differently when in the moment, compared to when it is recollected. As the well-known adage goes time flies when you are having fun, but when we think back to those instances when we were embarking on some new activity, those activities may occupy vast sections of our memory compared to the hundreds of instances when we travelled to and from work along our well etched paths.

What about the perception of future time- how does that inflate (overestimate the actual time taken) or deflate (underestimate the actual time taken)? As everyone knows time is money or a management tool, according to some thankfully forgotten management speak. For every transaction there are 3 parts, the cost, the item or service that is being purchased or delivered and the delivery date. Imagined if you had bought a computer and it is delivered on time, but it comes with a note form the manufacturer stating that the price of the computer had increased after it had been purchased, and an extra 10 percent had been debited from your account as per the terms of some tiny small-print that you had neither the time nor the vision to read. I am sure you would be furious. Likewise, we can be quite militant about price tags even those unbelievable bargains, when the wrong price was displayed on the items. The vendor might let you get away with it at the till, acknowledging their mistake and abiding by their price pledge. By contrast, we seem to be quite flexible when it comes to time, even in many contractual situations, accepting perhaps that some unforeseen factor outside of anyone’s control will lead to a delay, and this runs all the way from minor tardiness from our colleagues and ourselves and our food deliveries, to running years behind schedule, as per the entire construction industry. We learn to accept delays. Some goods or services are not time critical after all, sometimes we kid ourselves that they were not time critical and come up with a work around strategy.

We perhaps can’t really judge the impact of something being delayed. It’s probably a lot more than we imagine and just occasionally a blessing in disguise. We make promises accordingly and try and gain every possible advantage. How long do you think you can deliver this in we are asked? What is the right answer- do we over promise and under deliver or cut ourselves some slack? My experience is that we live in a competitive world and most people need to get work, and it is the minority that have the luxury of turning work away, so pre-contract we tend to overpromise or deflate time. It is the main thing we can get away with. We can’t cheat on the price or the goods though service can be another matter. Overpromising on time, if on purpose, is a largely unprovable deception, after all time is a continuum and not a discrete entity and we accept the vagueness. Though a recent precedent was set when a food delivery company was successfully sued for a very tardy delivery. Perhaps time penalties should be employed more widely pre-contractually. There may also be a cognitive bias in assessing our own performance, where we view ourselves as always operating at our optimum, or really when all the stars aligned, rather than at our average.

It may be different when assessing the performance of other or factors outside of our control. What about time inflation when does that happen? In my experience it only occurs when I am waiting for a table to be free at a restaurant when I haven’t made a reservation. You ask the manager how long it will take for a table to be ready. They frown and say an hour maybe, but without fail, voila! the table is free within 20 minutes or less. Why is that the case? The manager perhaps gains nothing from the restaurant being busy and might want to lessen the workload by persuading you to look elsewhere; the lack of availability of tables is patently nothing to do with their personal performance; and off course, their customer service training would tell them to under promise and over deliver by setting out the worst-case scenario at the outset.

It is only property transactions or the workers who clock on and off who seem to abide by their time contract, though I like to think that in the future when much work has been replaced by AI that we will be carrying out some fake job in an office to provide ourselves with a sense of community and value and be amused by someone like Steve Karel. Then we would need never have running down the clock situations. Perhaps fake jobs will be preserved for cultural reasons much like the façades of listed buildings, hopefully for our culture and not the AI’s culture.