OPINION – Rethinking Temporal Capital and Time Economy during the Pandemic Era

By Alan Yung* 

Nobody expected the pandemic to last for years and nobody wanted it to carry on without an end, except psycho-like people who appear in movies and would like it to drag on and benefit from the situation. Somehow, the pandemic may have changed the paradigm of business and daily lifenot just locally but around the world. At least this earth-shattering event makes people contemplate the use of their time and reconstruct the economic model.

*Alan Yung, Ph.D, and social media enthusiast

Life is fair when we count on thetemporal capital. No one can deny we have 24 hours a day for whatever activities one would like to conduct. Each person on this globe has the same amount of temporal capital in a day, a week, a month, and a year. The accumulated amount of time with the population within a specific range of age is the total temporal capital the society has and is available to spend. Businesses are chasing the time of the potential customer, and in return, businesses earn an amount based on differentmonetary value of the time consumed.

During the pandemic and whatever lockdown, the time for consumption is limited to a designated area, and ultimately uses various digital means to make various consumptions and consume the time mainly through digital means or passively using their precious temporal capital for lying flat.  The temporal capitalor the Economy of time spent on outdoor activities, is now spent on digital means, likely through the internet and any other indoor activities. Other than the time for nucleic acid tests and quick shopping at the supermarket, most people are staying home. Agree or not, the disposable time for economic activities will mostly be used on boundaryless internet activities, if not lying on the couch. At least when you are reading this article, you take 3 minutes to read a piece of an hour’s work. It may not be easy to obtain the actual amount of time and the amount in monetary terms, but there is a shift of business activities from local physical space to online. The time for dining out will likely become a time for cooking, if not a takeaway order. It is obvious that some internet services are overwhelmed with people who have nothing to do at home but internet infotainment activities. If you are a movie fan, you may try to count the number of movies you have watched and the number of hours of your temporal capital spent on movies. At the same time, the number of hours is “earned” by movie-related businesses.  

The upside of digital products or services can be multiplied with minimal resource input and can consume the same amount of time for each user. It is not easy to deny a single digital product, let’s say a video clip of a couple of minutes; can have the potential to consume billions of minute consumers.  In reality, this kind of scenario happens on video platforms. Virtual reality technology is spearheading the phenomenon. The time economy is a zero-sum game, the total time available for consumption and earned by producers is fixed at least within a certain period. The producer or the business is not just competing directly with other businesses of the same industry, but horizontally with all other businesses which also tempts users to spend their temporal capital as well as the money in their pocket. A complex model may be constructed for the investigation of the time economy, but a layman may understand that while you are watching a comedy movie, and likely you cannot watch a documentary without spending another couple of hours.

Back to the physical world of the type of local business in gaming, the physical business availability may be hindered by any event such as weather and its physical location. The island country, Malta where physical gaming venues and virtual venues are available, maintains a balance of business activities which allows the country to overcome the huddle during a pandemic.  According to the latest available figures online, there are roughly 300 plus gaming companies residing in this country, and around ten thousand people working in this industry. The operation size of each gaming company is relatively small, and it serves not just the home market of Malta, but a much larger market of the European Union, and the world as a whole, if not designated countries ban their people from accessing such services. The gaming revenue contributed 13.6% before the pandemic and dropped to around 12% during the pandemic. The internet or virtual business nature helps the industry to keep afloat.

Business activities are a dichotomy of production and consumption. There should be various modes of production of similar products to fit into different user time frameworks for consumption. In a nutshell, diversify and think out of the box, and cut the red tape. There is some 6 billion-plus consumers’ time available for digital products. Time and economic capitals are deeply intertwined and complex, with no straight route or easy formula to get the thing done. Can local businesses tap into the future?