Controlling the Space-Time Continuum, With Art

For just $19.99, Jonathan Keats will sell you a one-pound lead bar that he says slows down time (by less than a nanosecond).
Jonathan Keats

Ever since Andy Warhol, few American artists have dared to be full-service public intellectuals, offering a fresh and disconcerting outlook on their society through social as well as aesthetic experimentation. The partnership of the Russian-born artists Komar and Melamid (which ended in 2003) was a rare exception; in the 1970s they created a market in human souls, which they bought for a dollar each.

The U.S. now has a home-grown multimedia philosopher-prophet in Jonathon Keats, who makes fine art at the intersection of profound and frivolous. Two years ago at The Atlantic, I reported on his exhibition "Copernican Art," a daring manifesto for mediocrity. His new exhibition, "Spacetime Industries, USA: General Relativity for Everyday Efficiency," is his answer to the gurus of business time management. Instead of devising scheduling techniques, he proposes people become more efficient with the use of “Time Ingots,” devices that manipulate the space-time continuum. (Pay no attention to the fact that this is currently impossible.)

I interviewed him by email about his current project.

Tell me more about Spacetime Industries. What's the company's objective? Are you open to investors or do you plan to remain privately held?

Spacetime Industries is in the business of time management. In the past, time management has been a euphemism for discipline: Either your employer orders you to work faster or you convince yourself that you should increase your productivity by working harder. In other words, it's psychological manipulation. In contrast, Spacetime Industries manages time itself. We do so by leveraging physics, specifically Einstein's theory of relativity, which treats spacetime as a unified phenomenon. Einstein discovered that time is relative. For instance, time moves more slowly in the gravitational well of a massive object than in the vacuum of space. Spacetime Industries transforms Einstein's abstruse insights into practical technologies, useful in business and personal life.

Taking into account the enormous amount of money already spent on time management books and consultancies, the growth potential for Spacetime Industries is vast, and the larger we become, the more people we can help to manage their time more effectively. So we are absolutely open to venture capital and to a future IPO. More important, we hope that large corporations and governments will be interested in our products, because the more people involved, the more efficient society can be. The potential for large-scale investment in time management can be seen by looking at our plans for time-managed cities, in which different neighborhoods are zoned to run at different clock rates (using spinning hubs to centripetally induce gravitation). Time in agricultural districts runs much faster than in residential districts, meaning that crops will grow faster while people live longer to enjoy the fruits of their labors. The more that we cooperate, the more meaningful time management becomes because time takes on meaning through our interactions. At the broadest scale, the objective of Spacetime Industries is to foster relationships, through the mechanism of time, for all civilization.

What is a Time Ingot and how do you recommend using it? For example in a business setting, for optimal effect how close should it be placed?

A time ingot is gravitational ballast for temporal micromanagement. In other words, it's a one-pound lead bar that dilates time, much as time is dilated by a black hole or a neutron star. While the dilation is considerably less than would be achieved by a black hole or neutron star, since a time ingot is considerably less massive than either, it's far more convenient: light enough to deliver by regular mail and compact enough to fit on your desktop.

In terms of use, proximity is key, especially since the effect is very subtle (perhaps less than a nanosecond in the time left before the universe succumbs to a big bounce or big rip or another cosmic cataclysm that renders time obsolete). I would suggest that you keep it safely stowed in a desk drawer until you're waiting for results. At that stage, you should take it out so that the wait is minimized for you, since time will be moving faster for everyone else. (For instance, you might take out the ingot after delegating a task to an employee of after placing an investment.) Of course the time ingot can also be used surreptitiously to slow down the actions of a competitor if it's suitably concealed in his or her office, though I cannot recommend this since it would be unethical.

How can your company's time dilation products be used in the current government shutdown?

The American public is waiting for congress and the president to resolve their differences. Distributing a time ingot to every citizen would help to decrease the public impact, since time would then move faster for the politicians than for everyone else.

Presented by

Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

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