We are currently conducting research on how representations of time, such as date stamps, metaphors, and other time cues affect large-scale, distributed data-collection processes. Within the realm of information, time is an important but understudied quality that helps people better understand and filter the usefulness of the millions of bits of data generated, particularly during crisis situations. The concept of time is fascinating because it’s both intuitive—people unconsciously incorporate it into everyday decision-making—and because our sense of time influences the way we experience the world around us as past–present–future orientations—traits that are ingrained in our personalities. Time is well-studied in several domains, like social psychology, organizational studies, medicine, business, etc., but has not been deeply integrated into crisis informatics, the subdiscipline of information science that looks at emergency response data and computing.

The problem that we are trying to address is how digital humanitarian groups, like Standby Task Force, can more effectively collect and analyze actionable information to provide on-the-ground emergency responders to rescue people, determine priorities, and manage resources.

SBTF’s data system, like other groups in the Digital Humanitarian Network, cannot currently manage competing sets of time-related data. Therefore, they lack the ability to quickly distinguish, categorize, and analyze immediate, time-critical information from other information that develops gradually at a slower tempo but is also essential to the emergency response. Complicating this issue are the different time horizons of sudden-onset events, like earthquakes or tornadoes which come with little to no warning, versus slower-onset events, like hurricanes and blizzards that have a pronounced time runway of warning, preparation, days-long weather, etc. In contrast, humanitarian crises, such as disease outbreaks, forced migration, etc., have yet again very different temporal relationships to time , long term relief needs, etc., than natural disasters which require a different set of data. SBTF and other digital humanitarian groups must be prepared to respond to any of these emergencies.

Using SBTF as a backdrop, our research encapsulates the urgency of time during a crisis, how data systems must better account for the effect of volunteers’ time perspectives on how they gather, assess, and prioritize data, and the current lack of technical systems to capture and analyze time-related information.

We are also experimenting with ubiquitous computing interfaces for reflecting temporality and the passage of time using a variety of different time perspectives as conceptual lenses. The Time Machine is proposed as a physical interface distinctly separated from the task environment with real-world manifestations of arbitrary concepts of tasks and time, while providing constant visibility of status through an ambient display for self- reflection. The Time Machine aims to promote distributed cognition and utilize the stage-based model of personal informatics and the Pomodoro technique toward productive and enjoyable task management. We are currently wrapping up design and development tasks associated with The Time Machine and are aiming to deploy and evaluate its impact on everyday task and information management in this upcoming Spring term.


  • Ryan Ahmed
  • Stephen Barton
  • Alex Chambers
  • Michael Frontz
  • Haley Kwiat
  • Wendy Norris
  • Alex Ray
  • Ha Tran