Cracker Barrel: How time goes by
They just don’t make things like they used to.
Cars, clocks, TV sets, light bulbs — pick just about anything, and compared to a few years ago, it’s changed. Example: our granddaughter, Grace, almost 11, knows her way around computers, Kindle readers, iPods, smart phones and all the other tools of contemporary life. You name it, she’s used it, and feels comfortable doing so.
But when she came upon an old, Bell-era, black, pre-touch-tone telephone, she had no idea how to rotate the dial. What seems instinctive to us older folk was baffling to her.
And it’s not only manufactured things that have changed.
Take intervals of time, for instance.
Back when I was a kid, an hour lasted a good long time. You got your money’s worth out of time back then. If you did something wrong and got sent to your room and made to stay there for 60 minutes, it seemed like half a day.
Now an hour goes by in a fraction of that. It’s almost as if time itself is suffering from inflation, and a piece of it buys you much less life than it used to.
Or take years.
When I was Grace’s age, a year lasted so long you were liable to grow two inches taller and put on 10 pounds between birthdays. Your vocabulary expanded by several hundred words, your ability to do long division speeded up, and you started getting more attention from members of the opposite sex.
And now? I don’t know about you, dear reader, but in my own case, other than a continuing ability to gain weight, most of those other changes seem to be going backward.
So what’s happening here? We have to presume that the time it takes planet Earth to circle the sun hasn’t changed much over the eons. A day still takes 24 hours, a month 30 days plus, a year 12 months. These are objective facts, none of them open to argument. Which means the changes have to be subjective,
Albert Einstein touched on this topic with his famous theory of relativity. And some rather detailed experiments have since added further light. I remember reading years ago about an extensive attempt to measure the subjective perception of time, involving thousands of volunteers sitting in windowless rooms for varying periods after which their estimates of elapsed time were tracked by researchers and compared with actual stopwatched results.
Out of it all came the astonishing news that, on average, to a 5-year-old five minutes lasted just about an hour, and to a 90-year-old, an hour lasted five minutes. Based on the average life expectancy at the time of just over 70 years, the experimenters calculated that the perceived midpoint of your life happened right around age 26.
It took, in other words, roughly half your life to get to age 26, and the other half to get to the end of it.
Since then, Americans have been living longer. People born in the last five years can expect, on average, to live to 78. But that doesn’t help those of us who are already long in the tooth. As I see it, we older folk have several possible options.
We can deliberately cultivate an attitude of surly discontent and choose to fill our days with unpleasant activities and irritating companions, in the hope of making what’s left of life take as long as possible.
We can take the “whatever” approach and just let things happen.
Or we can amp up our efforts to squeeze as much joy into each day as we’re able, and make it a point to savor whatever we can.
As with so many other things, the choice is ours.
Copyright 2013 by Craig Nagel