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Space, Time, and Society

Arief Rahadian
Jul 31, 2016 · 4 min read

This article has nothing to do with quantum physics, nor science fiction.

Do you know that space and time came in one package? What will happen if you have the ability to travel through time, but without the ability to teleport? I mean, if you are traveling to the past without the ability to enter your coordinate specifically, you’ll end up in the middle of nowhere, floating alone in the space. Why? because our entire solar system is moving, darling.

Enough. We all know that time travel is half-impossible. Traveling to the past is impossible, but traveling to the future, on the other hand, is quite possible, if you have the right device to harness the power of gravitation and..

Okay, let’s stop there.

Time and space has been one of the most popular theme in both “real” science, and fictional works. But what does social science say about time and space? Do such concepts exist in social science works? Well, the answer is yes, and through this article, i will try to explain time and space from the sociological perspective!

Social + Space

Have you ever wonder why we rarely bump into each other while walking? Well, we did bump with each other several times, like when we are busy texting, or thinking about our ex, but still, it’s rare and can be considered a little bit embarrassing (unless we bump into our crush, wait, it’s still embarrasing, but worth it).

The answer is, it’s because we constantly perceive our distance with those around us. Imagine a number of invisible hula hoops floating around your body, forming a series of walls. The walls become smaller and smaller until there is nothing left except your skin. Those imaginary rings represent our interpersonal distance. Although social scientists tend to divide our interpersonal distance into four zones (public, social, personal, and intimate), the exact number of zones, and the size of it might differs from one person to another.

Let’s go back to the concept of interpersonal distance. We grow uncomfortable each time a person passes our territory. The trespassing — as it often happens in public transport such as bus or train — forces us to cope with such uncomfortable feeling by dehumanizing the rest of the passenger. We think of them as an inanimate object so we won’t be bothered by their presence. Such coping mechanism is also used in another circumstance involving interpersonal distance, for example, when you are doing a speech.

And that’s, my friend, is how social science view the concept of space. Well, that’s pretty much only the basic, so i’ll write some more in the future. Speaking of “future”, lets talk about “time” this time.

Social + Time

Time plays an integral role in our society. We wake up at 6 a.m., take a bath for 15 minutes, go to school at 7.30 a.m., take a break at 12 p.m, and so on. Time keeps everything in order, and when everything is in order, society progress. Social scientists said that “time discipline” enables industrial society to move forward.

Thus, time can be categorized as structure, a set of invisible rules which determines the actions of the individuals. Well that’s pretty much the truth, because time binds people to its will. It governs our daily activities from dawn to dusk. Although time is an imaginary concept, it dictates what we will do, and when we will do it.

But as a structure, the concept of time emerges from the collective meaning attached by individuals, who are being governed by the time itself. The idea of curfew, work hours, daily prayers, and all of the other concepts related to time are socially constructed. And as the time goes on, it becomes a structure, replicating itself to the next generation.

But structure is not fixed, albeit a little bit stiff. There is a beauty inside the interaction between structure and agent. The perception of time is not eternal and can be changed by collective actions of the individuals. The perception of time is changing as the time itself goes on, and it differs from one place to the other too. For example, people who lives in Japan will have a difference perception of time compared to people living in USA.

Time can also be categorized as a resource. Look at those who are waiting for something. They are willing to spend their time, in order to get something in return. Job interviews, meeting with a potential client, or even, dating. Time also confirms the existence of power relation between two parties. If you are willing to wait for someone or something, it means that the one that you’ve been waiting for has some kind of control over you.

That was my few words on how social science sees time as a concept, now, shall we begin the finale?.

Social + Space + Time

In physics, space and time can be unified into a concept called “spacetime” (duh). Space consists of three dimensions, and time consists of one dimension. Thus, spacetime is a four dimensional continuum created from the unification of space and time.

How about social science? do such concept exist in social science?. Well, since spacetime is the unification of space and time using physics as its linchpin, then such feat can also be done using social science!

Space and time can also be seen as a continuum through the social science perspective. Time is used to be experienced locally, but then technology enables us to travel through space, erasing the distance between people and connecting them all. The ability to travel through great distance changes our perception towards time. Time is no longer a local experience, it’s a global experience.

Last but not least, in social science, both space and time are socially constructed, they can determine the action of the individuals, but they can also be changed by collective efforts of the individuals.

So, if time travel is impossible, what about social time travel?

Oh shut up!.

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