My coworker cracks me up because she is so strictly punctual. I always knew it but now that she’s moved into the office next door, I am reminded of it constantly. I know she comes in at the same time every morning (even though it’s well before I arrive…I just know it).  I see her leave at 4:30 on the dot every evening. And if she doesn’t get to start her lunch right at noon, look out! We used to have a meeting on Tuesday from 11-12. One day when the meeting was running over, she got caught by a previous crazy manager for looking at the clock. While she was certainly embarrassed, she was no less indignant afterward that her lunchtime had been postponed.

I bring this up because I have been thinking about time again. Long-time readers of this blog in its many incarnations (all one, possibly two, of you) will perhaps recall that I have railed against time often in the past. It bothers me what human society has done with time: assigning monetary value to it, breaking it down into chargeable chunks, using it to create arbitrary deadlines and artificial windows of opportunity.

Anyone who has paid a bit of attention to time knows that it has a curious elastic quality to it. How fast it seems to go by depends heavily on what you are doing within it. Sometimes it depends on what substances you have consumed. The part of the day can affect this elasticity, too; a morning will seem endless, an evening brief. Often this has to do with the amount of available light. And certainly age also plays a factor. As we get older, years seem to slither by at an alarming rate.

So, what to do about time. I know I am most content when unencumbered by my awareness of time’s passing. Smash the alarm clocks! Abolish workday schedules! Don’t think about how much time something takes and judge it based on that alone. Shortcuts spring from a flawed thinking. There is no way to “save time.” It’s a delusion. Why are we trying to do things faster, anyway? It implies that what is happening right now is somehow not good enough, not “worth our time” and so we must get past it faster, faster, on to the “better” things that are more worth our time. But in the end, we just shortchange ourselves, because we have arbitrarily assigned “worth” when in fact every moment of life is valuable and should not be rushed through.

We are living in a frightening period of history. An entire generation is growing up with the expectation that instant gratification is the norm. People’s thresholds for waiting have diminished to a granular level. Impatience is ingrained within us. We are in a rush to get everywhere in our stupid cars. We get food in less than a minute, from a microwave or from a drive-thru window. Information is available 24 hours a day from the internet, from palm-sized devices we carry around with us everywhere, even into the bathroom. News travels faster than ever before. When we have to wait, we get indignant. Why should we have to wait? It’s not fair.

The whole situation has gotten so bad that there is now an entire slow movement. I don’t know much about it, but I think it started with Slow Food and snowballed from there. Clearly others are concerned about the speed at which society travels these days. I suppose making a conscious decision to try to slow down is a good thing. But I am more interested in how we got to where we are and why. Are we really more impatient today than we used to be? Is it technology’s fault? What is driving this desire and expectation for everything to be instantly available? Why do people drive so fast? What the hell is wrong with us?

Of course I don’t have answers for these questions. But I think about them constantly. I wonder why I feel so alienated. I know others do, as well. It makes me wonder if anyone would have an answer to the question of why they are in such a rush. Maybe they’ve just stopped thinking, and if they started again they would realize the absurdity of their actions. Perhaps we have all just become dulled to the point that we don’t know what we’re doing or why anymore. Maybe we have just each become a mere collection of tics: foot on the gas, fingers on the keypads, logging in and clicking around, spitting out to each other the words we’ve just heard and read and watched…never stopping to think for ourselves.

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1 Comment

  1. We are all running to something, but what is it? I tend to do this as well. I get excited when I get stopped by a train at a crossing. It takes the pressure off of rushing around. I even have a hard time sitting through an entire movie these days. It’s too hard to sit still.



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