(Come on, hurry up)
As a very young kid, I always used to make clockwork watches go wrong. They’d run stupidly fast or slow. I never knew why. If I had a strap which had the watch sitting on a leather backing that would help. The coming-along of cheap (Casio) digital watches solved the problem.
Perhaps that’s why I’ve always been aware of ‘the time’, and a good time-keeper. Something pretty abnormal and/or out of my control has to have happened for me to be late for anything.
But now, post-crash, things have changed. My awareness of time nowadays is heightened – hugely, and in truth fairly horribly. That awareness isn’t related to time-keeping in the day-to-day sense, which remains much as before. It’s the awareness of, or, rather, the feeling of the need to hurry. That applies to everything. With whatever I’m doing, I need to get it done. And I need to get it done now, because I could be dead tomorrow. And that stalks me, every waking hour. The insistence varies, the intensity varies, but it never goes away.
It is odd to realise that time – ‘clock-time’, the man-made measured time as you and I commonly understand it – is unique to us humans. We use time to measure life as we live in the world. But as far as we know, the world, nature, has no consciousness regarding clock-time.
Everything in nature, in the world, changes over time, responds to events occurring over time. Of course that’s the case. But it happens without any reference to clock-time. It may respond to the seasons, to temperature, to weather, to light – to any number of events that happen over any number of variable time spans. But it is not responding to a clock. There is no equivalent to our conscious awareness of, and measuring of, time. A microbe, an insect, a plant, any other animal, a boulder – whatever; none of them watch the clock.
I don’t know if we are enslaved by our awareness of time or rewarded. I guess it doesn’t have to be a one-or-the-other issue, nor absolute. Perhaps the human awareness of time is enriching in the appropriate context. Either way, our sense of time creates a huge distinction between humans on the one hand and all and every other facet of existence in the world on the other.
As for specifically human clock-time … it’s odd, too, to remember that that’s not a fixed, constant thing. Everyone’s sense of time is variable, depending on your age, your memory, your experiences and any number of other factors.
In some scenarios, once you’ve gained experience then you need to learn less. You have memory you can call on, to help you understand. As things crop up, you can call on what you already know. We often think of this as ‘freeing up’ the day – it can make you feel you have more time. And that normally feels like a good thing.
But an alternative, perhaps counter-intuitive, reality can arise. The process of learning, if it’s absorbing, can (temporarily) erase your sense of time. That can end with the feeling that comes with looking at your watch and being taken aback by how time’s ‘flown by’. Thus you’ve not ‘gained time’ at all, (in fact, quite the opposite). But nevertheless being absorbed in something you’re doing often feels very satisfying.
And the experience of how time ‘feels’ will also be – to some extent – relative to the length of life lived thus far. For a forty-year old, the time spent on a two week holiday is a much smaller fraction of the total amount of time experienced thus far in life than it will be for a four year-old. Naturally then, the time spent during those two weeks will feel different to each of them respectively.
And we all know that anticipation can modify your ‘normal’ perception of time too. There’s nothing unique in finding time slows to a crawl if you’re waiting for something to happen or something to end. Waiting for the time you can get away from a job you don’t like, waiting for … well, pretty well anything you’re not relishing.
Inevitably, there are plenty of other examples of how time can feel different to different humans, according to the circumstance.
And an easily overlooked circumstance at play is the state of each and everyone’s brain. How the organism is behaving. At a moment in time, on a given day. Under such-and-such pressure; experiencing such-and-such emotion. Under the influence of one-or-another drug or drink or food. How it’s socially or culturally controlled or constrained. How it might be physically damaged, or deteriorating.
Yes, we do have a huge amount in common with absolutely everyone else on the planet. But within that commonality there are a lot of variables that go in to influence how someone thinks and feels the way they do.
Arguably … if it’s managed and controlled, then being aware of one’s mortality can be a positive force in everyone’s life. But it often seem to be ‘hard wired’ in humans to not dwell on death and its implications. That may be a practical evolutionary development.
But we may need to get beyond our natural, as evolved-thus-far, understanding.