Articles/  The changing meaning of time and space

The changing meaning of time and space

A multitude of factors including new technology and demographic shifts have combined to alter how and where we spend our time. Trajectory’s Tom Johnson discusses how this less structured approach to time will continue into the future, providing new and interesting opportunities for brands.





Do you eat lunch at the same time every day? Do you shop at the same time every week? Are your working hours a very rigid 9-5? Or perhaps you only use your phone at certain times of the day?

If you’re anything like me the answer to all of those questions is no, and you are experiencing one of the dominant consumer trends of our time: the Deregulation of Life.you’re anything like me the answer to all of those questions is no, and you are experiencing one of the dominant consumer trends of our time: the Deregulation of Life.

At its core, Deregulation gives consumers greater flexibility over what they do, where they do it and when they do it. Everyday activities are less likely to be confined to a particular time and place – and much more likely to be at our discretion. The rules of society, our ability to access information and our ability to communicate with others are all changing, meaning we have greater control over our routines.

It’s not quite a free-for-all – by and large we still sleep at night and fit a few meals in during the day – but we are able to choose where we are and what we do like never before. 

This has caused no shortage of changes to virtually every aspect of our daily lives. Shoppers are no longer constrained by store opening hours as consumers can buy at any time from dawn till dusk (and they do). Deregulation has also given us the dubious pleasure of being able to check emails wherever we are – at home, in the café or even on the beach. These are activities that used to belong to specific times and specific places. Now, we can do them anywhere, including from home.


“The breakdown of routine doesn’t diminish our chances to be out and about, but creates myriad
new ones”


The fact that we can do more from home doesn’t diminish the value of out of home spaces, but it does change their meaning. Consumers can (and do) exert greater choice over when and where they spend their leisure time. Mealtimes, for example, were once strictly defined and consistent across the population. Now, with 2m people eating at 10:30am, and 1.5m eating at 4pm, new occasions like brunch or afternoon tea have developed. 

These are also social occasions: we might be using Deregulation as an excuse to eat between meals, but we’re also using it to connect with others – meeting up with friends and getting out of the house. 

The impact of this Deregulation is stark – with various occasions and day parts taking on new prominence. At the weekend, UK consumers are now more likely to be out and about early evening (6pm-8pm) than the ‘traditional’ evening peak (8pm-11pm).


This greater flexibility causes no shortage of complexity. It’s easy to know where your customers are when you know that 25% of the population are having lunch at the same time (12:30, as was the case in the 1970s). If consumers are plugged into their devices pretty much constantly (as 77% are between 9am and 6pm), how do you make sure your message is getting through? 

But this complexity masks the enormous opportunities that Deregulation brings. Our devices allow us to interact with the outside world in new ways and to make the most of public spaces and communities. The breakdown of routine doesn’t diminish our chances to be out and about, but creates myriad new ones. We enjoy that time more than anything – during the week our happiness peaks early evening, which is exactly the time we are most likely to be out. 


“during the week our happiness peaks early evening, which is exactly the time we are most likely to be out”


Deregulation will continue to be accelerated by technology, but will not stop there. It is driven not just by our devices but by changes to society too – the advent of Sunday shopping in the 1990s deregulated our consumer habits and 24-hour drinking a decade ago changed the way hospitality services operate. 

Deregulation even extends beyond our daily habits and into the foundations of our lives – our life courses and demographics are deregulated too. Society was once built around the idea of an easily definable nuclear family, but positive progress on gender roles and equality means the family is now a wonderfully multifaceted thing. At work, the days of linear processes are steadily being replaced by roles that require creative thinking, problem solving skills and collaborative working – all examples of Deregulation. The devices that connect us to information, events and our friends and family are also capable of blurring the lines between the real and digital world, creating a hybrid one in between.

Deregulation is a challenge for any business or organisation to deal with – and can be a challenge for individuals to cope with too – but it provides enormous opportunities, both for brands that are able to engage their deregulated audience, and the audience itself.


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Tom Johnson is a Director at Trajectory.

Trajectory specialise in quality, multi-methodology insight and foresight analysis and is a place where thinking about the future is at the heart of every working day. 

Originally published in #ThisConcernsYou - goo.gl/C5zTZ9