For the past few years, I realized that time has been passing too rapidly for me. A few of my friends have confirmed the same things. The common adage “Time flies by when you are having fun” does partly account for it, but still, I find it weird that people in my small sample size who are have varied levels of work-related stress also resonate with the same feeling. In addition, I often feel mid-week that it is just Wednesday and week is going too slow, yet I feel that over a longer span time is going too fast. This very paradoxical feeling leads me to conclude that something else is going on.
One reason could be that this is a consequence of aging - that is, time moves faster as one gets older.1 This is a bit surprising and I don’t think it makes too much sense. From what I understand,2 the key idea is that as one gets older the better they know of the world and the less “surprise” they get on a day-to-day basis. Because there is less surprise, not too many new memories are formed and hence one feels that time moves faster as there are not many memories punctuating the time passed.
On first glance, it seems like this make sense. But in reality, it is not like we are not surprised more when we are older. Especially knowledge workers (like academics) who are learning new things (some even more than their college days 😂), so it is not like there are no new “surprises” and new memories are definitely formed. Despite learning a lot of new things in the last couple of years I have felt time pass by quickly, so aging cannot be the reason, or at least the only reason.
I do think that memories are somehow linked to the aspect of time passing faster. Overall, I feel like memories of the key aspects of my last couple of years are not as strong, even if they are completely novel. For example, I visited a new city, went to several nice museums, camped near a beach (never done that before in my life), etc, all of which are new to me (and my partner). But my memories of them are not as strong as they would have been before the last few years (my partner concurs too?). So what has changed?
Well several things come to mind, some which you might resonate with:
- I am more hooked to my phone (and computer) than I was 3-4 years before. This changed a bit more during the pandemic when I had to rely on my phone/computer for social contact.
- I am generally in a bit more of a hurry than I used to be. For example, I do not pay too much attention even when I am outside - I take photos of a beautiful scene without really appreciating it, thinking I will look at later (which I never do).
- My work-life balance has worsened and I continuously think about work even when I am not working.
- I am no longer bored - I am constantly occupied. I am either thinking about work or feel the need to be productive and start doing something else. So I have no time to muse about the nice memories I made recently (and therefore strengthen them) .
Concisely, the changes fall into two categories:
- A perceived “more things to do than there is time”: I feel like the overall effect of being hooked to digital media is that I feel a constant feeling of failure to keep up. This is because of the deluge of information that these devices provide which I have not had enough time to digest. So in the end, I begin doing a combination of two things - absorb (and remember) information without thinking deeply about it or be in a state of hurry where I am trying to “finish” things.
- Getting uneasy when bored: Maybe as a consequence of the above, I feel like even when I am taking a break, I am constantly thinking about things that need to be done. And if I am burnt, instead of just relaxing I end up watching something (passive entertainment, again due to the easy presence of digital media). This sometimes works and makes me feel better in the short term. But because of this I am constant occupied.
Both of these changes cause me to live in a constant state of occupation - either I am thinking about work, or doing something to be productive or am being entertained by the countless hours of content easily at our fingertips.
As a consequence, I feel like I do not live in the present moment. These probably cause me (and us) not to appreciate memories that are formed, think about them and strengthen the memories. I guess the more easily one can remember the memories, the more slowly time flows?
These are definitely too speculative, and I was initially just writing them for myself, but it turned out to be an interesting writing exercise that gave some metrics to change my lifestyle.
- Actively work towards bringing a healthy work-life balance.3
- Spend more time appreciating memories and achievements. Maybe writing/journaling about them would be one way as it would help me re-live the memories and help flesh out details better.
- Spend time reading in a focused manner and then writing about it. I feel when I do this, I often think deeply about what I have read.
- Set some time to not do anything. This would help me not worry about productivity all the time and maybe even get used to the feeling of boredom again.4
Over the next few weeks, I will try to implement this in my schedule. Let’s see how successful I get.5 Hopefully, this will help be bring in a habit of introspection, reading and writing.
If you read till here, I guess this is a topic of interest to you? I would love to hear what you thought about it. All what I wrote is super speculative and based on opinions of a small group of friends, so I would love some more opinions on this. Please do send me an email!
https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/european-review/article/why-the-days-seem-shorter-as-we-get-older/2CB8EC9B0B30537230C7442B826E42F1 - I don’t really agree with the arguments in the paper though. Plus, it is a bit funny to see a subtitle called “Physics” which describes some vague notions of memory and link it to sigmoid growth curves. ↩
Being too focused on work is probably be giving rise to cascading effects? This is also mentioned in this article, which provides some suggestions on how to possibly slow down ones’ perception of time. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/clear-organized-and-motivated/201603/why-is-time-passing-so-quickly-these-days ↩
This probably is the hardest to implement as I have to resist the allure of entertainment. ↩
If it does work, I will write down what worked, and link it to this blog post. ↩