Let me preface this post by saying that I’ve written a fairly similar piece to this before. That piece is hidden deep in the archives of my old blog, back when I had no idea how to use WordPress and my writing skills were…still being developed. And hidden it shall remain.
A few times before, I’ve tossed around the idea of writing a follow-up piece to my original piece on time; I’ve always decided against it because I tend to sound a bit ramble-y and I’m not sure it’s a topic that interests many other people. But the concept of time and the theories that attempt to rationalise it have been popping up everywhere in my life lately, especially as I’m halfway done with my final semester and am starting to look ahead into the future.
Time is a concept that constantly fascinates me and occasionally scares me. You can’t hear it, smell it, taste it, or feel it. You can see the consequences of it, but you can’t see the thing itself. It’s measured by changes we observe and although we as humans try to compartmentalise it and squeeze it into segments to organise our lives, it flows of its own accord, not stopping for anyone or anything.
Studying time is an odd thing. It’s almost disconcerting to stop and think about and discuss a phenomenon that you constantly experience, yet rarely think about, and perhaps know nothing about. The first thing that stuck out to me when studying time at uni was that there are two ways to think about time: time moving and ego moving. To me, this means that there are two types of people: time movers and ego movers. Time movers are those who perceive themselves to be standing still, while the future moves toward them. Ego movers are people who perceive themselves as flowing along with time, toward their future.
The concept of time moving totally came as news to me—there are people out there who feel like time is coming toward them? While they stand still? I’ve always pictured myself moving toward my future, constantly working to get there faster; even as I type that out, it sounds crazy. How can you arrive at the future? Isn’t the future, in and of itself, unable to be reached? And what deeper connotations do time moving and ego moving have? What does it say about who I am as a person that I identify with ego moving, rather than time moving? That’s the thing about uni—it’s like a Hydra: whenever you get an answer to one question, two new questions pop up.
There was another thing that gave me one of those I-subconsciously-knew-that-already-but-it-feels-weird-to-have-it-be-scientifically-confirmed experiences (does anyone else get that? Or is it just an oddly specific thing that only I experience? Please be the former). Social media (and mobile phones in general) have literally reshaped the entire way we as humans perceive and feel time. Studies have shown that when you spend your leisure time on social media, you perceive time as going by faster. Worse still, because our phones are so interwoven into the fabric of our day-to-day lives, our brains are having increasing trouble differentiating between leisure time and work time. That means that we’re feeling more stressed in our down time than we used to.
But here’s the scariest thing of all. We’re starting to consume so much content, and the content we view has an insanely fast turnover rate. Instagram stories and Snapchat stories only last 24 hours. Feeds refresh every single time you open an app, regardless of the last time you checked that app. Snapchats only last a few seconds before vanishing forever. The psychological results of this? We crave updated versions of things faster and more often than ever before: cars, phones, houses, even relationships. We struggle to commit to things for too long, and it’s slowly taking a toll on us.
Committing to something (or someone) for a long period of time has huge health benefits. Studies show that married people are less likely to have a heart attack; those in committed relationships tend to produce less stress hormones; committing to something has been shown to improve mental health; you’re even more likely to live longer if you have the ability to commit (you commit to life and it commits to you). So shouldn’t it really scare us that our ability to commit is being diminished by digital technology?
This was definitely a wake up call for me. Especially as a media & communications student, a massive portion of my life revolves around social media, and most of my days are spent in front of a screen. Being in a long-term relationship right now is a big deal for me, because I’ve always had a small (read: crippling) fear of commitment. I’m slowly learning to like the idea of committing to things (for reference, see my first and only tattoo!), but I definitely still have a ways to go,
So what’s the point of this huge rant, apart from telling you the benefits of commitment (most of which I found from a HuffPost article so who really knows if they’re even true)? The point is that I never thought that time, although an intriguing topic, meant anything more than what I could physically observe of it. I didn’t think of it as a subject worth my attention any more than any other subject, and certainly not something worth researching. But by digging just a little deeper into something I didn’t previously know anything about, I’ve found out more about other people, about the universe, and about myself. And now I can work on making my life and the world around me a teeny tiny little bit better.