Alexander Jutkowitz: A Meditation On Time

Group SJR is a WPP digital content creation agency on a mission to make people more reflective about the time they spend on the internet. Alexander Jutkowitz is the CEO and founder of SJR. Jutkowitz also serves as a board member of The Advertising Council and The New School, is an adjunct professor at USC’s Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism, and is the author of The Strategic Storyteller, published by Wiley in 2017.  SJR recently designed and built a Time Machine to deconstruct the modern relationship between man and screen.

Reconnecting with a friend you haven’t seen since childhood. Reading the front page of the New York Times from the day you were born. Searching for a soul mate – or at least a date for Saturday night. Thanks to the internet, all of these activities are now possible without speaking to another person, leaving your apartment or even getting out of bed.

Convenient, undoubtedly. And, on their own, these digitized moments may even retain their analog meaning. But, too often, one online interaction cascades into another, sucking you in like a black hole until you realize you can’t account for hours of your day.

Eventually, it makes you wonder: What do we lose when we gain access to seemingly everything, just by spending time online?

That’s the question behind the Time Machine, a retrofitted 90s-era vending machine, designed to deconstruct the modern relationship between man and screen. Built by my agency, SJR, the machine is a physical manifestation of the internet. Instead of chips, cookies or soda, it vends the virtual moments that somehow define too much of our days. But the only payment it accepts is time.

Select a silver mylar bag labeled “Facebook” and out pops a 4’ x 4’ acrylic mirror with engraved text that reads: “Your great aunt tagged you in a profile picture from 3 years ago.” Or pick a bag titled “Instagram” and receive a card with the words: “Photo of a couple walking hand in hand down the hallway of a political residence.”

But the goods are only released after watching a countdown clock projected on the floor, ticking away the time value attached to your bag of choice. And there’s no cheating the system – if you lift your head up, facial recognition technology knows you’re no longer spending your time and tells the machine to pause the countdown.

Our hope for the Time Machine is that the forced meditation ultimately prompts users to more consciously decide whether to spend seconds reading a funny tweet, skimming a news story or watching a funny cat video. And just like the real media on these channels, the machine’s products vary from the generic to the nuanced, from the insipid to the imaginative. In the age of the Internet, one of the creative world’s key challenges has been to translate the physical into the digital.

But to encourage us to step back and better understand how this translation has changed the relationship we have with information, other people and ourselves, the Time Machine turns the challenge of digitization on its head.

As content creators, communicators and designers of visual experiences, our greater objective with the Time Machine is to push us to constantly consider: Are the stories we publish every day really worth our audience’s time? Do they go beyond the expected? Do they inspire human connection?

In a sense, the Time Machine is our North Star, a living reminder to deliver experiences that only and always value our audiences’ time.