A Slice of Time: An Exploration of Temporal Capital and its Relationships to Economics, Culture, and Society in a Technological and Digital Age

Posted in 2013 Journal


In a disciplinary field where we talk about the intersections of many different sorts of “capital” – economic, social, cultural, educational, just to name a few – a noticeable player that is missing from the conversation is that of time – time as capital, or temporal capital. While the concept of time has the potential to reach into many facets of academic studies, this paper introduces the idea of temporal capital as a concept that interplays between economic, social, and cultural capitals. I highlight the ways in which the proliferation of temporally-bound mediums, user-generated content, and the Internet has effected the ways in which we consume cultural artifacts, and the power structures that exist when we choose to use, consume, produce one kind of media versus another, especially in today’s modernist society of ticking clocks and limited time. With technological advancements and the Internet, the explosion of media online, especially temporally-bound media such as video and audio (as opposed to visual art, still images, and words) has led to new ways in which to budget our time and choose, for instance, which YouTube video to consume. With pervasive and ubiquitous mobile and digital technologies, how do traditional notions of work and leisure time start to blur? Temporal capital also gives us a platform to think about how the limitations of time affect cultural memory and shared meanings, especially as production and consumption of media no longer lie in the hands of traditional media companies.


An episode of ABC’s series Lost is approximately 43 minutes. The average video length on YouTube is two minutes and 46 seconds.[1. As of March 2008. http://mediatedcultures.net/ksudigg/?p=163] As of March 2008, the time it would take to view all the videos on YouTube was 412.3 years. It is presumably much longer now, given that, as of March 2013, 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.[2. YouTube.com Statistics Page (Retrieved March 31, 2013) http://www.youtube.com/yt/press/statistics.html] My iPod currently holds 8 gigabytes of music. It would take 3.9 days to listen to all 1259 items.
Concepts like cultural capital, social capital, economic capital, political capital, and educational capital are discussed and examined extensively in academic scholarship. But the aspect of time, or temporal capital, is often neglected in considering these relationships. In this paper, I seek to start a conversation about the need to include time in discussions about power and culture, especially in today’s digital age.
Through the Internet, we have more control over how we spend our temporal capital, both by contributing to the explosion of user-generated content on the Internet, and changing the ways in which we consume said content. After all, how many of us have sat at work and watched YouTube videos, taking up chunks of company time for personal entertainment? There are ongoing tensions between Internet utopianists who would see the control of temporal capital put in the hands of individuals rather than the authorities as a sign of the democratizing effects of the Internet, and Internet alarmists who see the lack of control on the Internet as the death of culture.[3. ie: Shirky’s views (utopian) versus Keen’s (alarmist)] Without cultural gatekeepers, with a free-for-all Internet bounded by temporal capital, how do we find shared cultural meanings with limited time to consume media, and no one directing us to culturally significant artifacts in which to participate? As Marita Sturken notes:

collective remembering of a specific culture…provides cultural identity and gives a sense of the importance of the past…[it] is bound up in complex political stakes and meanings…Cultural memory is a field of cultural negotiation through which different stories vie for a place in history…is produced in the United States in various forms, including memorials, public art, popular culture, literature, commodities, and activism…Memory is crucial to the understanding of a culture precisely because it indicates collective desires, needs, and self-definitions.[4. Sturken, 1997, pp. 1-2]

In the age of the Internet, where the limitations of time limits the amount of media we can consume, massive amounts of user-generated content assure our distraction away from the “deep analysis” and “considered judgment”[5. Keen, 2007, p. 16] of cultural artifacts curated by traditional media and epistemological institutions. We live in an attention economy where, given the proliferation of media in both the digital and the real world, the individual’s attention is on sale to the highest bidder. What takes up our time may not allow us to progress intellectually, culturally, or politically.[6. … in a way that the Powers That Be would like us to, thereby placing us more within their hegemonic control. I use the word “progress” with caution, as it implies directionality and a connotation of “better,” when in reality, and in true postmodern form, what is better for those in power may not be better for those outside of a discourse of power.]
Here are the questions I explore in this paper: how do the limits that time imposes on our life in an age of media explosion and increased individual control (easily read as “democratization”) affect cultural knowledge? How do we think and talk about time as an asset? Is it as a limited resource? Why are some people’s time “worth” more than others, and what are the potential social implications of these differences? What are the implications of temporally fixed mediums, like audio and video, as opposed to still images and paintings? Who has temporal capital to spend, and how does the existing cultural hegemony determine how we choose to spend our time?
The act of creating and distributing content on the Internet also ties temporal capital in with questions of digital labor and the gift economy. How are we to reconcile the utopian philosophy of the Internet, which encourages the free exchange of information outside the confines of a traditional economic system, with labor that the creators of content invest without benefiting economically? Finally, what implications do an illusion of control over temporal capital have on the liberal democracy? How does the concept of temporal capital play into the existing frameworks of power, ideology, and hegemony and control?
There are many facets of time and temporal capital to explore. I will define temporal capital, investigate how we perceive time from a theoretical and historical standpoint, and posit that the limit of time is an intricate part of any conversation about social, economic, and cultural capital and the Internet and digital technology.
A few words of note: the usage of “society,” “world,” “digital age,” or any such terms assumes a framework developed societies largely encompassed by Western cultures. My discussions about the Internet and digital media do not directly address the Digital Divide. While I am well aware of the inequities of access, knowledge, and power that persist on the Internet, as well as the ongoing debates over net neutrality and the Foucauldian implications of time spent in loading websites that a non-net-neutral system would produce, the scope of this paper will not delve into these issues. Finally, I proceed with the assumption that liberal democracy and social equality is a “better” form of society than fascist, totalitarian, or communist ones, or the like, even though it may not objectively be the “better” form of society.


In the fifth season of ABC’s series Lost, in the 14th episode, “The Variable,” the character Daniel Faraday is pressured by his mother, Eloise, to give up playing the piano and concentrate on his true talent – math and science.

Eloise: Your gift, Daniel, is your mind. A mind that is meant for science, mathematics. And it’s my job to keep you on your path. So, unfortunately, there’s no more time for... (indicates piano) distractions.
Daniel: But I want to keep playing the piano. I can do both. I can make time.
Eloise: If only you could.[7. Horowitz & Kitsis, 2009]

Daniel Faraday’s poignant plea for his mother to allow him to play the piano by saying he will “make” time has a double meaning within the science fictional world of Lost. On one hand, the character later figures out how to time travel, and characters within the TV show travel backward and forward through time. Did Daniel Faraday actually “make” time, or did he simply find a way to move back and forth within the fourth dimension?[8. I will talk about time as the fourth dimension and how it is perceived by us three-dimensional creatures later, during my discuss of Abbott’s Flatland.] On the other hand, this scene could be read as Daniel telling his mother not that he will actually create time, but that he will manage it in a way where he can pursue both activities. While Daniel’s desire to make more time reflects that which is only possible in an imaginative science fiction world, the language he uses parallels our own desires to “make” time. We “make” time to see our family and friends, or we “make” time to watch TV. The words are the same, but we point to a re-prioritization of our temporal capital in order to fit in additional activities. Unlike Daniel, we cannot, in fact, create time. Eloise provides a voice of grounded reality, insisting that Daniel’s life is bound by a limited amount of time, and that he must invest that temporal capital in an endeavor in which he would maximize his potential to excel. She implies, rather obviously, that each person’s temporal capital is finite. Each decision we make and every action we perform – in pursuit of one’s education, entertainment, interpersonal relationships, or career – takes time.
Time is a regular part of our daily language and conversations. We frame time as a commodity, but even more so, we treat it as though it were something we can accumulate, lose, and control. We want to save it, spend it, waste it, lose it, invest it, budget it. We want more of it. And like all commodities, we rarely want less of it. We want it to slow down, speed up, stop altogether. We are cautioned to use our time wisely, because we do not know how much of it we ultimately have. We treat it as though it were a tangible entity, something to be exchanged, a type of capital bound by the limits of time, and concerned with the temporal quality of our behaviors, actions, and decisions.
Capital is often conceptualized in economic terms, as “wealth in the form of money or other assets owned by a person or organization or available or contributed for a particular purpose.”[9. Oxford English Dictionary] However, capital is not limited to simply the economic. Social and cultural capital are part of the critical theory perspective relating to gender, class, race, sexuality, technology, information and knowledge, economics, politics, and education. We talk about social and cultural capital as assets that fluctuate with different individuals and circumstances. At first glance, temporal capital seems fixed for every person. As much as we wish we had more hours in a day, we do not. However, there is a difference between time and temporal capital, even though the two seem interchangeable. Temporal capital is reliant on, and limited by, time. Think of it as a pie. Time is the whole pie. Temporal capital is a slice of the pie. But how big the slice is, who gets to cut it, and who gets to eat the slice are ways in which temporal capital gets defined. The slice, though, can never be larger than the pie itself. Temporal capital is bound by the limits of time.
Temporal capital acts much like the other forms of capital I mentioned previously, and in fact, influences and is influenced by them. Time, on the other hand, is an objectively and scientifically fixed measurement. The two are implicitly tied together, as one can only have as much temporal capital as there is time. Temporal capital, then, is a way to talk about negotiating and prioritizing one’s time. Who owns our time? When we are at work, does our time belong to our employers? Do our children or our spouse control our time? How much control over time do we actually have? And how does this control of time vary for different individuals according to socioeconomic and cultural class status? These questions make up the essence of the concept of temporal capital. For purposes of being colloquial, I will be using “temporal capital” and “time” interchangeably throughout this paper.


Time and space are intricately tied together. In physics, the speed of light (3.0 x 10^8 m/s) is given as a velocity (distance as a function of time). We talk about cosmological distances by “light-years” – how far light can travel in a year’s time. On Earth, time and space also have an intimate relationship. We drive our cars at certain speeds, measured by miles per hour, indicating how many miles or kilometers we travel within a certain time frame. This provides a direct relationship between time and space. The advancements of transportation and communications technologies had a great impact on time.
During the Industrial Revolution, the speed of society’s processing systems increased drastically, which included the speed of transportation and communication. Starting with the railroad system, the dominant form of transportation at the beginning part of the Industrial Revolution, the transport of material goods and people happened more rapidly than ever before. The increased speed of society created a control crisis. Technology was advancing too quickly for society to control it.[10. Beniger, 1986] One of the forms of control that was adopted during the Industrial Revolution to bring order to the quickening speeds of communication and processing was the imposition of standardized time and time zones, which “organized world time into twenty-four zones.”[11. Ibid., p. 16] Moreover, it provided for a “convincing demonstration of the power of rationalization or preprocessing as a control technology.”[12. Ibid.]
With time standardized, trains ran on strict schedules, which were necessary for both efficiency and safety. Because of the increased speeds of transportation, the railroad allowed travel and communication to occur over greater distances in shorter time. It was not until the ability for communication across great distances to happen did time standardization become an issue.[13. Ibid.] Before the Industrial Revolution and subsequent advents of communications technologies, social networks only extended to the distances one could conceivably walk in one day. Communication and connections with other human beings only happened face to face, and these incidences were limited by the (slow) speeds of travel. With the railroad, greater distances could be overcome in a shorter amount of time. Because trains could cover more distance in a day than any previous mode of transportation, the railroad system started compressing time and space through speed. The speeding up process continued with the advent of other vehicles and carriers of human bodies, like cars and planes. However, these vehicles still physically move through space, and are present at both ends of the spectrum of travel and communication. It still takes a certain amount of time to physically travel from Point A to Point B, even if the speed of transport has increased. Subsequent communication technologies compressed time and space in a way that people could communicate over great distances without needing to spend time physically traveling the distance. This enabled a “[s]imultaneity across distances…made possible by the telegraph, telephone, radio, and facsimile.”[14. Peters, 1999, p. 139] With the advancements of communication technologies, the distance between two communicating entities became a moot point. Communication, for all intents and purposes, became near instantaneous.
The Industrial Revolution, with all of its technological advancements, shifted timekeeping from the natural to the artificial.[15. Rybczynski, 1991] The developed world shifted from an agricultural-centered worldview to an industrial, factory-driven perspective. Before the Industrial Revolution, there were no such things as weekends. After all, the cows did not take Saturday and Sunday off by not producing milk, nor did the chicken cease to lay eggs and the fields forgive not being plowed for a day or two of rest. After the Industrial Revolution and the normalization of capitalism as a social framework, time became artificially controlled by factory owners, who paid workers money in exchange for time spent doing labor. This could then be exchanged by the worker for food, clothing and shelter to uphold the material conditions of living. No longer were people living off the land, working as a necessary means for survival. The perception of time became tied artificially to a system of capitalist economics, rather than an organic one of tangible, material goods. People left their rural lands to move into the city, where “production is increasingly centralized and rationalized in highly automated factories.”[16. Berman, 2001, p. 101] The commodities produced in the post-industrial era are no longer one defined by its use-value, but rather embody a social relationship between “the producers [and] the total sum of their own labor.”[17. Marx, 1967] Human labor itself has become a value in the production of commodities, and workers were at the mercy and whim of those who controlled capital. Those who controlled economic capital also controlled temporal capital.
The social relationships of power that developed during the Industrial Revolution between those in power and those who work for the “powers that be,” and the normalization of the measurement of time within the framework of capitalism and labor exist today. Both the seven-day week and the hours and minutes in a day act as timekeeping devices to standardize people’s actions.[18. Rybczynski, 1991] Our post-industrial society runs on measurements of time, which, “[d]espite its apparent inevitability, is not a part of nature, but, rather, a cultural artifact that rests of social conventions alone.”[19. Zerubavel, 1985, p. 4] Time thus becomes partitioned into a framework that is not natural, but socially constructed, subliminally disciplining the movements and actions of individuals within society. This societally constructed time is a powerful form of control, which has social, economic, and class implications that are tied to cultural production and consumption.


With the Industrial Revolution came the trappings of capitalism, consumerism, and factories, alongside the tasks of measuring the value of labor through time and measuring work time versus leisure time. Leisure is wedded to class status. Historically, “[t]he upper classes are exempt from industrial employments, and this exemption is the economic expression of their superior rank.”[20. Veblen, 2007, p. 7] Because members of the upper class were not bound to the strict clockwork schedule of the industrial production world, they had greater control over their time than members of lower classes, who needed to work in order to earn economic capital. Indeed, the upper classes may have more temporal capital, as the hours and minutes in their day are not tied up working and earning economic capital for the “powers that be.” As Veblen puts it, “[m]anual labor, industry, whatever has to do directly with the everyday work of getting a livelihood, is the exclusive occupation of the inferior class.”[21. Ibid., p. 7] A member of the lower class must perform manual labor and partake in industrial production in order to make a living. A superior controls his or her time ostensibly. Even in today’s society, our workplace consists of timecards or timesheets to record the amount of time we have labored for a company or institution, and our financial compensation is based upon the time we put in to performing labor for someone else.
Control of one’s temporal capital is diminished in spaces where one works for “The Man,”[22. Harvey, 1991. Also used colloquially when we slack off at work and say we want to “stick it to the Man.” In this case “the Man” would be what I am calling the “Powers That Be”] or for the “powers that be.” Work time and leisure time used to be separate. With the Internet in the workplace, though, people are attempting to take more control over their day, using the time allocated for work to conduct leisurely activities.[23. Young & Case, 2004] Companies are now concerned with Internet abuse in the workplace, where employees spend increasing amounts of time on non-work-related websites or other online activities, indicating that workers are subverting the control that Corporate [insert post-industrial country’s name] has on how they spend their time. I will explore later whether or not the Internet actually allows for more control over media consumption and choice on how one spends time.


Earlier, I talked about how time is socially constructed and measured in rather unnatural ways. As constructed as time is, though, we cannot alter it. We cannot ultimately control it. We cannot slow it down, speed it up, move forward or backward in time, or make it stop. In modern society, we have been bound by the constructed prison of time, one seemingly so rigid and unbreakable as to be perceived as natural, that ticks in the background, no matter what we do. We are interlocked and interwoven into time, with no way of tearing ourselves out of its rigid framework on which our world runs. We perceive the passing of time as linear, as irreversible.[24. Zerubavel, 1985, p. 83]
Edwin Abbott’s book, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, can be extrapolated as an eloquent metaphor for the perception of a fourth dimension, which is commonly considered as time.[25. Zavisa, 2010] The book is told from the viewpoint of a Square, a creature of the second dimension, who cannot fathom a plane directly perpendicular to the one on which he exists. In the story, he encounters a Sphere. The Sphere tries to explain the third dimension to him by passing through the plane of the second dimension. As the Sphere does so, the Square perceives the Sphere’s passing through as first a dot, which expands into a small circle, then slowly enlarges into a large circle, at which point the circle’s diameter decreases slowly until it is a dot again. Taking this metaphor for our perception of time, perhaps a creature of the fourth dimension may be looking at us, unable to comprehend why we must perceived time as a fixed entity. No matter what we do, we cannot make time move faster, slower, forward, backward, or stop all together. In another sense, we cannot move ourselves variably (faster or slower, for instance) through time, just as the Square from Flatland cannot move himself perpendicularly in any direction through a three-dimensional space.
The Flatland example illustrates the fact that time, is fixed for us. Our understanding of the world “require[s] the notion of a universal time component.”[26. Zavisa, 2010] Time is a constant and is finite and fixed, its progression inevitable. We can accumulate more money, more prestige, more friends, more cultural experiences, but we cannot ever accumulate more than 24 hours in a day. Time is not a universal absolute, but our perception of time creates meaning within its limitations as a finite resource. With these limitations, how do we negotiate the types of media out there, especially in an era where we have more options in both the production and consumption of media than ever before? Technology has made producing media and cultural artifacts easier, resulting in an explosion of content to consume. How do we choose?


American composer John Cage has a piece called 4’33″. Originally written for piano, the piece of modernist “music” can be performed with any instrument or combination of instruments because it is four minutes and 33 seconds of silence.[27. Lawrence Foster conducts the BBC Orchestra in a performance of 4’33”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUJagb7hL0E] To experience the piece in its entirety, one must sit in silence for four minutes and 33 seconds, as the title demands. This temporal investment is intrinsically part of the experience of this piece, with its temporal fixity explicitly stated. Other temporally fixed mediums are not quite so obvious.
Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase, “[t]he medium is the message,”[28. McLuhan, 1964] provides a foundation upon which we can start thinking about how different types of media are intertwined with temporal capital. Media can be divided into two categories – those that are bound by the restrictions of time in order to experience them, and those that are not. Very generally speaking, audio and video media fall into the former, while still images and texts fall into the latter. One can look at a painting for ten seconds, three hours, or any expanse of time shorter, longer, or in between. It can be argued that more time invested to a careful examination of a painting will reveal layers imperceptible with just a glance, but the boundaries of the painting itself (such as size, style, and colors) is understandable almost instantly.
A piece of music or a video clip, however, does not allow us that choice. Jacques Attali says, “Music is a ‘dialectical confrontation with the course of time.’”[29. Attali, 1985, p. 9] While there is a “stop” button on our iPod or CD player, cutting the music off before its conclusion denies an experience of piece of music in its entirety. Take the first movement (Allegro con brio) of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony Op. 67, for example.[30. The following was explained during a class lecture by Martin Scherzinger at New York University in the spring of 2010.] In the first six seconds, eight notes are played. These eight notes are as follows: G, G, G, Eb (held). F, F, F, D (held). These eight notes can be grouped into two groups of four. The first four notes reveal very little information. The notes G and Eb make up an Eb Major chord. However, the next four notes, the F and the D, make up a D Minor chord. Moreover, the time signature of the piece is confusing. The fermatas (indicating that the note should be held) on the Eb and the D confuse the rhythm of the piece, so the listener cannot tell that the symphony starts on the upbeat of the first count of the measure, nor the fact that the time signature is 2/4 time. Only with the progression of time does the beat and key signature become apparent (which in this case is actually C minor – neither Eb Major or D Minor). The first eight notes tell us nothing about the rest of the symphony, or even its basic structure. We must invest the time in order to experience the whole thing.
Temporally-bound media, especially the means to record and reproduce temporally-based events, came with technology.[31. Performance art, I would argue, is another temporally-based medium, but for the sake of concentrating this discussion to one of communication and technology, I will not delve deeper into this issue.] Technology has drastically changed the way we experience art, as Walter Benjamin captures eloquently: “[e]ven the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.”[32. Benjamin, 1969, p. 220] Mechanical reproduction allows cultural artifacts, works of art, news, information, and other forms of media to be consumed whenever people have time for it, rather than being bound to a performance or a showing. Paintings and writing – media that are not temporally bound – have been around much longer than audio or video recordings. When the computer first became a household fixture, the first type of reproducible media was a picture. Then came audio clips, then finally video clips – a combination of photographic and audio reproduction technologies. Today, a digital photo generally takes less hard drive space than an audio file, which takes less space than a video file of the same length and quality. The ability to produce and distribute temporally-bound media across time and space came later than media that are not fixed. With the Internet and advancements in digital technology, media now traverse distance in less time than ever.


Digital labor and digital economy complicate traditional structures of labor and leisure. Tiziana Terranova invokes Richard Barbrook’s definition of digital economy as “characterized by the emergence of new technologies (computer networks) and new types of workers (the digital artisans).”[33. Terranova, 2003] What makes these workers different than the traditional forms of offline labor is that these workers often work under a “gift economy”:

For most of its users, the net is somewhere to work, play, love, learn and discuss with other people…. Unrestricted by physical distance, they collaborate with each other without the direct mediation of money and politics. Unconcerned about copyright, they give and receive information without thought of payment. In the absence of states or markets to mediate social bonds, network communities are instead formed through the mutual obligations created by gifts of time and ideas.[34. Barbrook, 2007]

Barbrook actually mentions “gifts of time” that people expect on the Internet. And yet, the idea of temporal capital is neglected in conversations about how the Internet and the digital realm affects culture. People put time in creating user-generated content (like webisodes and videos on YouTube, or their own music on MySpace) and do not get paid for their efforts. The temporal capital spent in creation and its relative lack of economic capital gain is characteristic of the digital gift economy, which does not fit with the need to make money in a capitalistic system.

(I)ndividuals need both time and money to participate within the hi-tech gift economy. While a large number of the world’s population still lives in poverty, people within the industrialised countries have steadily reduced their hours of employment and increased their wealth over a long period of social struggles and economic reorganisations. By working for money during some of the week, people can now enjoy the delights of giving gifts at other times.[35. Ibid.]

Media and cultural consumption and production outside the post-industrial sensibilities of financial responsibility often take place outside the time one spends at work. The emphasis of leisure time as time spent to participate in digital culture indicates socioeconomic and class inequities. A single mother living in the projects of New York City who has to work two jobs to support her family will not have the time nor the means to watch a YouTube video, let alone make one or participate in comment wars. However, to deny that digital advancements do not have an effect on how people spend time is to disregard an entire facet of the ways in which today’s developed society functions.


Seeing a concert at Carnegie Hall is distinctly different from Benjamin’s mechanical reproduction in that it does exist uniquely in a certain place and time. Because of its cultural trappings, a live concert requires a fixed investment of temporal capital – one that cannot be as readily controlled as watching a video on YouTube or listening to music on an iPod. After all, it is bad form to stand up and walk out of a concert midway, especially when the performer is playing. However, pausing or stopping a YouTube video partway through evokes few feelings of guilt or social awkwardness. Colloquially, we would probably say that the person who attends a Carnegie Hall concert is more “cultured” than the person who watches a YouTube video. There is a certain expectation of how one is supposed to act during a classical music concert – what Bennett calls the “exhibitionary complex” – a certain disciplining of the audience’s body through the process of self-regulation in which “the people” see themselves as interpolated in an existing power structure.{36. Bennett, 2004, p. 119] This interpolation into a “legitimized” culture reflects Bourdieu’s discussion of cultural capital.
Bourdieu talks about the relationship between taste for cultural artifacts deemed “legitimate” or “high culture” and education and economic status.[37. Bourdieu, 1984] Missing from Bourdieu’s discussion is a temporal aspect. Building up cultural capital takes time – time to listen to “legitimate” music like Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier or Concerto for the Left Hand, to go to the museums to see Goya,[38. These pieces of music and artists are mentioned by Bourdieu as “legitimate” culture. Bourdieu, pp. 16] to get educated, and to participate in the corresponding social class. Bourdieu discusses the correlation between education and social class, yet neglects the time invested to get to the level of education one needs to appreciate things of “high” culture, nor does he mention the necessary temporal capital investment involved in education. As the control of one’s time intersects with class, it follows that there is an intimate relationship between time, education, and cultural capital. Individuals in the working class do not have the luxury of time as compared with those of a higher socioeconomic status, and hence, would have less time than these upper class individuals to develop cultural capital.
With the explosion of consumable stuff on the Internet, then, who chooses what we spend our time consuming? Which cultural artifacts enter into a space of visibility amongst the cacophony of Internet content, simply because those controlling, owning, or creating it dictate the way we spend our time? An artist from the traditional media framework, with more exposure and more money for marketing, will be in a position to claim more of the mass temporal capital than an indie musician. While the indie musician benefits by finding niche markets and traversing lower barriers to sharing and distributing his or her music on the Internet, the main recipients of the public’s temporal capital are still artists who have been interpellated into traditional, mainstream forms of media.
I want to continue putting this idea of limited temporal capital in conversation with Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital and examine how cultural capital and collective culture are affected, given the increase of consumable media, entertainment, art, and information options on the Internet. Furthermore, how does the control that traditional forms of media hold over temporal capital, with access to economic and social capital and visibility, affect the purported democratization of ideas and culture on the Internet?
Kenneth Gergen wrote that the immersion of society in technologies of social saturation that exposes us more and more to the opinions, values, and lifestyles of others is “propelling us toward a new self-consciousness: the postmodern.”[39. Gergen, 1992] In the seemingly postmodern realm of the Internet,[40. Without arguing the postmodernist merits or demerits of the Internet, or even if the Internet can be considered postmodern.] there are increasingly more options of cultural artifacts on which people can spend their temporal capital. Through the Internet, people can create cultural artifacts and voices outside the framework of traditional media, enabling the construction of content and space “for people rather than for Man,”[41. Harvey, 1991, p. 40] and embracing the ideas of diversity and subversion of establishment (the “modern”) that alludes to the postmodern era.
The allure of the Internet as a democratic platform for the creation and consumption of culture is hard for Internet utopianists to resist:

[m]edia, information, knowledge, content, audience, author – all were going to be democratized by Web 2.0. The Internet would democratize Big Media, Big Business, Big Government. It would even democratize Big Experts, transforming them into…”noble amateurs.”[42. Keen, 2007, p. 14]

While Keen is being snarky about the potential for the Internet to democratize everything, Clay Shirky sincerely believes that “we are living in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to cooperate with one another and to take collective action, all outside the framework of traditional institutions and organizations.”[43. Shirky, 2008, pp. 20-21] YouTube is an excellent example of these ideas of gift economy, democratization, and the spending of temporal capital. Shirky’s model of “publish, then filter” that defines user-generated content on the Internet points to the fact that people can post, or “publish” anything they want online – a blog, a video, a comment – as long as they have a computer and Internet connection. Popular content, then, will rise to the top after being “filtered” by the “people.”[44. Ibid., p. 81] This is in stark contrast to traditional forms of media, which function under a “filter, then publish” model in which published content underwent a rigorous filtering and quality check process by an authoritarian entity, be it a journal or book publisher, a movie studio, a television executive, or a record label. Indeed, the Internet does “make space”[45. Wong, 2004] for previously disempowered groups and people to create content and participate in discussions and discourse online, express their opinions, and form communities. The value of the gift economy, or these “gifts of time,” as Barbrook suggests, is less materialistic and tangible in favor of a more personal satisfaction or fulfillment through the act of sharing and community building.
The flip side of a democratized Internet reflects a measured pessimism that digital media can break free of pre-existing structures of power. Andrew Keen expresses great alarm about the decrease of quality in cultural artifacts online that comes with the proliferation of amateur-produced content on the Internet by arguing that “democratization, despite its lofty idealization, is undermining truth, souring civic discourse, and belittling expertise, experience, and talent.”[46. Keen, 2007, p. 15] He especially goes after blogs and YouTube, fretting about the amount of culturally insignificant content accessible online. He states, “YouTube eclipses even the blogs in the inanity and absurdity of its content. Nothing seems too prosaic or narcissistic for these videographer monkeys.”[47. Ibid., p. 5] Given the amount of videos online of laughing babies, sleeping baby animals, video blogs (also known as “vlogs”), and other random content like a man exclaiming orgasmically about the wonder of a double rainbow, Keen has a point. The latter video not only viewed over 7 million times,[48. According to Jimmy Kimmel, who posted the video up on his Twitter when it only had 8,000 views. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6TfGD6CQs0] but was also made into an autotune song by the people at Autotune the News,[49. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MX0D4oZwCsA] garnering over 15 million views at the time of this writing. The amount of time available to people does not increase as available online content increases. With more content being published, “millions of us willingly tune in to such nonsense each day,”[50. Keen, 2007, p. 6] without thinking about the temporal capital we spend watching a two-minute video about a double rainbow, or a four-minute psychedelic rhythmic rumination about three dollar shoes.[51. Which has a whopping 39 million views. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCF3ywukQYA] And everyone watches different things. What does that do to our sense of a common cultural ground? Given the banality of user-generated content, what does that do to our idea of cultural capital?
In response to the two questions posed above, I believe that power in influencing culture through media and entertainment still resides in traditional media power structures. Although certain YouTube videos have gained a modicum of notoriety in the digital world, it is no guarantee that a random person on the street would have heard of any specific video. The following example may illuminate the power that traditional forms of media still has in providing a better chance of “choosing” to consume cultural artifacts, videos, and music that are already a part of the traditional media framework of production and distribution. As of November 2010, seven of the top 10 YouTube videos are videos of well-known celebrity artists, including Eminem, Shakira, Lady Gaga, and Justin Bieber[52. MacManus, 2010] – musicians already interpolated into the traditional media framework that already has economic and social power and capital. The three others are amateur videos uploaded by users who are not connected to any media institution. The disproportionate popularity of celebrity YouTube video points to the continued power of media institutions, despite the democratic potential of the Internet. Of the three amateur videos, two of them are under two minutes long (and implicate our society’s strange obsession with babies), whereas six of the seven of the traditional celebrity videos are over four minutes long, with the remaining one well over three minutes long. Here, we see that traditional celebrity videos not only dominate the most popular list, but also require a greater investment in people’s temporal capital that people are willing to invest.[53. This assumes that people who click on a video watch it all the way through. It would be interesting to see if viewers clicked away from a video mid-way through.]
I tend to sit on the more cynical side of the debate regarding whether the Internet provides a way to take more control over temporal capital. The Internet gives us the illusion that it is a democratized platform in terms of cultural production, consumption and discussion,[54. I did not even touch on the culture of comment and critique that happens on the Internet, but the act of commenting acts as a digital form of critique which does not actually do much to renegotiate the role of the expert in the Internet/YouTube/digital age.] yet the way we spend our time is entrenched in traditional models of participating in media and pre-existing power structures of economic and cultural capital. Even though Bourdieu would probably not consider Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga as “high” culture, they are legitimate because of their connection to traditional, previously legitimized forms of production that far exceeds amateur videos of an infant biting on his toddler brother’s finger, a kid high on dental anesthesia, or a litter of French bulldog puppies. Perhaps we need a new way of thinking about legitimate culture in the digital age, and re-imagine cultural memory. As media content increases, both online and off, the glue that holds together national sentiment and sense of a unified public as “imagined communities”[55. Anderson, 1991] weakens as we find less common ground with our neighbors because we are not watching the same content as they are. We are having different experiences. Before, there were just three television channels. So when we were asked, “Did you see that thing on TV last night?” we likely would have, and a conversation would ensue around that program. Now, if we were asked, “Did you see that video of the laughing baby on YouTube?” our response may be along the lines of, “Which one of the millions?” Our conversations are losing a sense of common ground and shared cultural understanding because our limited temporal capital is fragmented to accommodate the plethora of “non-legitimate” media out vying for our attention, further fragmenting the sense of collectiveness and belonging. Are we forming new communities that exist more in silos than ever? What is the value of traditional forms of nations, societies, and cultural groups, even if imagined, that exist without common ground and shared cultural meaning? How do new fragmented communities negotiate existing power structures if they might be so fragmented as to be insignificant in discourses of power? If information and culture is so fragmented, can any one person ever be truly informed or truly cultured?[56. This line of questioning could be furthered by asking “by whose authority is someone truly informed or cultured?” but this is a good place to stop for now.]


Time is so ubiquitous that talking about it seems rather obvious, possibly explaining why it has been relatively invisible in scholarly discourses. I demonstrated that time, and especially temporal capital, is worth examining with other forms of capital such as economic and cultural capital, and especially in discussions regarding class, democracy, and power. This paper presents the possibilities of bringing temporal capital into conversations surrounding a digitally impacted society and world. I do not claim to be comprehensive in my specific discussions of the relationships that temporal capital has with culture and economics. Temporal capital is a thread interwoven with many current issues and discourses that will take time to unravel.


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