More and more often I hear people commenting on how fast the years seem to go by. Conventional wisdom seems to be that the older we get the faster time appears to fly. The theory sounds good, especially with a sprinkling of mathematics to lend credibility to the theory. At the age of five, one year is 20% of my entire existence. At the age of fifty, one year represents only 2% of my existence. Relatively speaking, you could say that since my experience, on a per year basis, is getting smaller and smaller, each year represents a lesser portion of my life and thus seems to pass faster.
My own experiences echo this feeling but I believe there is another cause. For all but a lucky few of us, time travels at a fixed rate. If I consider distance as an analogy, it might take the form of a 50 mile trip at a fixed speed of 60 MPH. I don’t know about you but on the last trip I took, the first mile seems to take just as long as the last mile.
Let’s look at cases where time seems slow down to a crawl and where it passes way too fast. When I get stuck in a meeting that has nothing to do with me and has nothing of interest for me, time seems to stop. On the other side of the coin, I’ll pick a really good action movie. Time flies while watching the movie. I picked those two examples because I can easily point to a common factor. The meeting provides almost no stimuli and the action movie is nothing but stimuli. I suggest that we perceive the speed of time based on the rate of experiences.
This theory certainly explains the disparity in the rate time seems to flow between the movie and the meeting. Aside from the obvious changes in my interests as I age, this perception of time has nothing to do with my age.
I’m going to suggest that the perceived rate change has nothing to do our age and everything to do with technology. If my perception of time flow is related to the rate of stimuli to me, technology has certainly accelerated my time flow.
Years ago, if I had to troubleshoot an electrical problem on a car, I would wait for a weekend when I could go to a library, I took two hours to find the schematic and copy it, I then went back home and spent 30 minutes troubleshooting. I had to wait two more days to go to a dealer and order the part. Altogether it was about 10 days.
Today, I would get on the internet, find the schematic in about 30 minutes along with a number of helpful suggestions on how to diagnose my problems, spend 15 minutes troubleshooting, order the part using Amazon Prime and have it within three days. Technology has certainly compressed that time frame.
I remember a time when I would sit down and do nothing but watch a movie or read a book. Now, I watch a movie, write this blog, and check my email, all at the same time. There was a time I would have overwhelmed by this but I can’t imagine doing it any other way. The flow of stimuli has greatly increased because of technology. If I’m exposed to twice as much stimuli in the same time period, I will perceive that time is moving faster.
Take a look at a bigger picture. If an oil pipe line ruptures how long before it’s reflected in gas prices at the pump? Look at the Olympics we just experienced, all the events served to us streaming in real-time. No waiting and far more events than we’ve ever been able to watch before.
Technology is accelerating the volume and speed of sensation to us. We are bombarded by email, Facebook, CNN, Twitter… I can do streaming video in real-time on the latest sports or news. At no other time have we been exposed to so much stimuli as fast and the rate is steadily increasing.
Time is still moving at the same constant rate. We’re still aging at the same rate. I don’t think my age is the reason this year seemed to pass in a blink. I think technology has provided me with so much to see, do and learn that there’s no down time. Do you have another theory?
© 2012 – 2019, Byron Seastrunk. All rights reserved.