A Brief Contemplation of Time

Time. I think about time a lot. You might even say all the time. My relationship with the concept runs from fascination to obsession. I can’t see it. I can’t touch it. But I can feel it leaving me in the dirt with every passing day.

Back in January 1999, I began a side project: writing time-tracking software. I was already a software developer and I enjoyed the time I spent crafting lists of instructions to make the machines do my bidding. It was at this same time my job implemented a new requirement: everyone start logging time spent on projects. I’d never be able to do that in my head and writing it down on a cocktail napkin seemed less than ideal.

That’s when Timekeeper was born. It began very simple, didn’t have a lot of features, but it got the job done. In 2008, I finally got around to writing Timekeeper 2 and then two years ago, in 2014, I topped off the most advanced version ever, Timekeeper 3. And because of this, I can tell you how much time I’ve spent on things. Won’t this be fun!

Project Hours
Timekeeper 3 802
Winter’s Gate (novel in progress) 725
Back to the Fridge 339
Upcoming “Cancer” Book 116
This blog post 2

But modern software isn’t the only way to sit back and ponder in awe about how much time one has wasted invested in their lives. Nope! You can also do it with period television shows and movies. For the sake of the math, let’s just assume it’s already 2017.

  • Gone with the Wind came out in 1939. It was about Civil War events in 1861. If this story took place today, it would be about World War II events in 1939.
  • If That 70s Show started today, it would be That 90s Show.
  • Same with M*A*S*H. Relatively speaking, that show today would be about a war in 1995.
  • If Happy Days started today, it would be about a middle-class family in Milwaukee set in the nostalgic era of 1998.
  • The film Animal House would be about a zany group of college students . . . in 2001.
  • And The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? Will Smith today is 48: three years older than Uncle Phil when the show started. Mind. Blown.

I’ll leave you with one other fun fact. In addition to my fascination with time, I’m also fascinated by history (I guess the two are related). And when it comes to history, it gets hard to really quantify distances in time. Something that happened one thousand years ago vs something that happened ten thousand years ago is genuinely difficult to “internalize”. Once an event as passed, we tend to just lump them all together.

Take Cleopatra and the Great Pyramid of Giza. From our point of view, they were contemporaries: two ancient concepts that live in a vague and distant past in our collective memory. Except that by the time Cleopatra was born, the Great Pyramid of Giza was already about 2,500 years old. Which means that Cleopatra’s birth was closer to the founding of Pizza Hut than it was to that pyramid.

Wow.

2 Comments for “A Brief Contemplation of Time”

says:

For me time isn’t like how fast a day or even a week goes by. I always see the first of the month as “the beginning of a new month – fresh start!” and then I look up and realize it’s the 25th of the month and I am like “how did that happen so fast?”

And why is it as a child time seemed to go so slow??!!

Charlie

says:

My theory on that comes down to memory.

Here are couple examples: after a long day and you fall into bed and think, “Ahhh, I’ve got eight hours of bliss ahead of me.” Two seconds pass and the alarm is going off. Or remember the movie Awakenings? A group of patients who had been in a catatonic state for decades awoke to find their lives had passed them by.

While I will grant that these two examples involved forms of unconsciousness, the effect is the same: periods of time where no memories exist. The same thing happens to us in normal life. What were you doing February 28, 1995? Or June 9, 2006? Or March 4, 1982? Unless those dates were associated with a significant life event, the average person answers, “I have no idea.” You were likely awake and conscious for most of those days, but they are now memory gaps.

So while the memory record isn’t complete and unbroken, the brain is consciously aware of the fact that this time exists. And if eight hours, or twenty four hours, or decades have knowingly passed that the brain can’t account for with accompanying memories, then that feels fast. The more gaps, the faster it feels like time goes.

As a child, you only have a few years behind you and your memory record is much more complete. “I’ve lived ten years and I can remember six of them pretty darn well.” This feels like normal speed. “I’ve lived forty years and I can remember six of them pretty darn well.” This feels like your life is on fast-forward.

Anyway, that’s just my theory.

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