Time Perception in Scandinavia

Time Perception in Scandinavia

Italian Gioia Arieti moved to Denmark to study design. Here she speaks on Wide Time and the reasons why extending our lives is wrong and about time perception in Scandinavia.

Gioia is no ordinary designer, she is on a path to revolutionize the way we live and work by widening, not extending, time.

She moved from Italy to Denmark to study design in Kolding, UNESCO Creative City of Design in Denmark. She now holds the title of Human-Centered Designer, which makes you instantly raise your eyebrows, but wait… she became an analogue astronaut and her principle on Wide Time gained coverage in an American innovation magazine, TEDx and a Space conference in France.

Time Perception in Scandinavia
According to Gioia, Wide Time refers to measuring time in width rather than length

Ok, we have so much to unpack here: have you heard of “Wide Time”? According to Gioia, Wide Time refers to measuring time in width rather than length – an approach that gauges the intensity of one’s perception of time. Instead of chasing longevity, she seeks “amplevity,” a term she coined from the Latin word amplitudinem meaning “wide extent.” For example, have you ever felt like more can happen in a week of holiday than a whole month of work? Or how much shorter a day during the winter feels compared to a long bright summer day? I am sure you know what I mean.

According to her, this concept owes its existence to two factors: Denmark and Space.

Let’s understand how everything started:

Gioia, who came up with the title of Human-Centered Designer and what is that you do?

When I first told my grandma I was going to study design in Denmark she gasped. She thought I was going to start designing lamps and beautiful vases. The problem is that the word “design” in many non-native English-speaking countries is a word that is very static. It’s an adjective, often symbolizing something aesthetically pleasing. The reality is that “design” in English is a much more dynamic word. it’s a verb about unfolding, creating, developing.

Time Perception in Scandinavia
According to Gioia Arieti, this concept owes its existence to two factors: Denmark and Space.

I knew that Denmark is one of the best places to learn to design and to innovate. Here the concept of Human-Centered Design has been existing for a long time and it represents an approach to product and process development that prioritizes understanding human behavior, in contrast to the more conventional method of building a product first and then identifying a market need. I personally came across the concept of human-centered design when a friend suggested that I read the book “Change by Design ” by Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO back then, a company that was an early leader in design thinking.

Why did you embark on the re-design of time?

When I moved to Denmark, I was shocked to discover a distinct approach to time that differed significantly from what I was accustomed to in Italy. I found myself becoming aware of the diverse ways in which time was measured, a departure from the perceived “normal” back in Italy: very stereotypically, in Italy arriving on time at a friend’s place is almost rude, while it’s polite to arrive 5 minutes late. Here in Denmark being exactly on time is the polite way to show up. Here it is quite normal to have lunch at around 11.30, while in Italy not even my grandma eats that early. It’s common to count time in weeks, like saying week 42 is a holiday. I had never heard of this counting system in Italy. Or again, winter in Denmark starts on December 1st, when in Italy we’re taught that Winter starts on December 21st.

Time Perception in Scandinavia
In Denmark, the concept of Human-Centered Design has been existing for a long time .

The seasons are very sharply defined here, and especially the winters are extremely dark, and the summer very long, which in turn sharply defines also our behavior. All these cultural differences made me more aware of the subjectivity of time, and they stayed in the back of my head until I started to learn about Space.

What was the moment that made you inspired to kick start this Wide Time revolution and why?

About three years ago, during the first Covid summer, I couldn’t escape on a holiday, but I still needed a break from my everyday job. So, I ditched the holiday idea, and I took a break by enrolling in a Space camp. No physical travel, just a mental escape. I remember listening to astronaut Andreas Morgensen, space architects, and analog astronauts explaining how the perception of time changes in Space. Forget dates, a toilet break becomes a more relevant time unit to refer to events, such as something happening “before the toilet broke” or “after the toilet broke”, rather than saying “it happened on day 215 of the mission”.

Time Perception in Scandinavia
During the first Covid summer Gioia enrolled in a Space camp.

Why is it easier to remember days when you associate them to an experience? Why do we need to travel to feel like more can happen in one day? And again, why does it feel like more happens in one day of summer during the long bright days compared to a short dark winter day? It still has the same 24 hours. These Space superhumans gave me perspective on how such a human feeling on Earth, that I thought was just a situation I encountered, was actually relevant for all humans and even in Space. And it hit me, maybe we should ditch the calendar dates and find a more memorable time unit to measure time by, like memorable events. And that’s how wide time started.

How is it to be an analog astronaut and what can we all learn from it?

Becoming an analog astronaut is an intense experience. Analog astronauts are civilians that join for long periods of time a research lab that simulates conditions of Space habitats and scenarios of Space travel to help researchers and space agencies understand how humans will cope with the challenges of Space missions. It’s a way to anticipate, troubleshoot and fine-tune things before actually sending folks into the great beyond. Practically, that means, that after days of training for self-sufficiency and emergency situations, you are then plunged into a totally isolated and restricted environment with 4 strangers, your crew members, with which you will share most of your time. No natural light, same repetitive meals and strict routine with one mission: carry out experiments and testing some products that will be sent to the ISS.

But beyond the experience´s sheer craziness, it’s an eye-opener to understand how much scenario planning work is needed for human psychology in Space, not only for the technical challenges. What struck me the most was the warped sense of time in this sensory-deprived realm.

Time Perception in Scandinavia
Becoming an analog astronaut is an intense experience for Gioia.

How can we bring Wide Time into our lives?

Growing up in Italy exposed me to a wealth of Latin philosophy, and I was struck by how relevant the writings of philosophers like Seneca remain today. Seneca famously wrote “the life we receive is not short, but we make it so”. While routines can flatten our perception of time, it’s impractical to constantly seek extreme novelty, you can’t always go bungee-jumping off a cliff and it’s important to also acknowledge the power of routines for personal development. So to widen time is important to strive for a variety of experiences: exploring more, taking risks, sometimes doing something foolish, this way you shift your perception of time from linear, to wide, intense, and after 30 years, you will have so many stories to tell, you will feel like you have experienced 60.

You can simply start to bring Wide Time in your life by becoming aware that distorting the perception of time is in your power, but this might feel a bit philosophical, or maybe you might agree with it, but soon after is easy to fall back into your routine. That’s why I created a physical paper calendar that forces me to reflect on my width of life and follows seasons to spark change and novelty in a sustainable way.

In theory, the calendar seems pretty easy to follow: celebrate New Year on September 1st and the End of the Year on May 31st, and assess your progress towards your goals on December 31st. While pursuing your resolutions, follow three seasons of change: the “context break,” a month dedicated to altering routine contexts; “Mad March,” trying something new every day; and the “non-linear” summer seasons encouraging spontaneous behavior … Why is it structured like this?

The calendar is essentially a tool for setting goals within a specific timeframe, maintaining routines and it follows human-centered “seasons” based on how we perceive, or want to perceive, time. In my case, significant shifts occur between October and November in Copenhagen as the days darken, and energy levels dip. To counter this, I break the monotony by changing the context of my routines – taking a different route to work or enjoying coffee at a cafe instead of my desk. Another pivotal time for change is in March, when longer, sunnier days emerge. Feeling confined by winter routines, I challenge myself to do something new each day of March. The key is to maintain a focused yet flexible approach, consciously shaping your actions to actively distort your perception of time.

Time Perception in Scandinavia
It’s an eye-opener to understand how much scenario planning work is needed for human psychology in Space,

What is your most crazy and extreme experience you have done to widen your time and what is that you are wishing to do next?

I had expected that the wildest experience would have happened when checking off something from my bucket list during March, when I try to do something new every day. But truly, I was blindsided by the mental energy required to think of something new every day, and the bias towards things I merely wanted to do instead of actually pushing my boundaries. Only after I started asking friends for suggestions or started trying new things that required more than a day of prep, I ended up chasing experiences that actually blasted me outside my comfort zone.

Where do we start to learn about the Wide Time calendar?

You can check out my TED talk to get a deeper understanding of the thought experiment behind creating a calendar designed to distort our perception of time, or, you can visit the website directly to explore the calendar https://www.wide-time.com/

Gioia Arieti was interviewed for Daily Scandinavian by Gianni Pisanu. Gianni was born in Italy in 1978. He is a devoted photographer and artist living in Copenhagen. He is currently committed to discover aspiring young entrepreneurs eager to challenge the status quo and create a significant impact on society.

His work can be found at gippdesign.com

Photo Credit: Gianni Pisanu @GiPPdesign

Feature image (on top): Gioia Arieti/LinkedIn


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