Time Keeps on Slippin’

It has been a month since I changed jobs. I feel comfortable in my new environment, but I also feel like I just started working there a week ago. My company hired two new people since I started, so I’m not the new guy anymore. Hold on, I need to double check the calendar…

It has actually been nearly three months since I started.

Crap. What happened?

The last thing I remember is my departure from my former job. It felt just like breaking up with a girlfriend: we got along well, we spent a lot of time together, and “it’s not you, it’s me.” I still keep in touch with a few of my old coworkers, so we’re just friends now.

As for my current job, things are going smoothly. I do online marketing for Solution Tree, a publisher that specializes in professional development for K–12 educators. I’m learning so much about different softwares and processes, it’s no wonder I lost track of time. In fact, it feels like time is passing quickly these days.

I had a moment in the last year where I had to actually think about my age. Like Blink 182, I had to ask: what’s my age again?1

Since college, I felt the days get shorter, the seasons shift quicker, the years blend together. The other day I shared a cake with my roommates, feelin’ 22.2 Today I realized I celebrated another birthday since then. In a couple months I’ll be 24—nearly a quarter century old.

After reflecting on my mortality, I conducted some research3 about time perception and I found answers that don’t point towards early-early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Age/Year Relationship

Some theories are based on the assumption that our brains perceive time in relation to our lifetimes. In other words, every year you experience makes up a smaller fraction of your entire life. For example, a year makes up your entire life on your first birthday. When you turn 2, a year makes up 12 of your life. At age 3, a year is just 13 of your life, and so on. The length of a year is constant, but each year makes up a smaller and smaller chunk of your entire lifetime.

Source: The Local Yarn

Logarithmic Time Perception is another example that is summed up with this equation: change=log(age). It takes 10 years for change to go from 0 to 1, but it will take 90 more years for change to reach 2. The idea is that we perceive so much change in our early years that we perceive time to move slowly. The inverse is true in our later years.

Source: Google Graph Calculator

Aging Brain

If you’re into theories that are less math-y, psychologists have studied how aging affects the brain’s ability to perceive time. In these studies, researchers asked participants of various ages to estimate when 3 minutes had passed. The subjects ages 19 to 24 estimated an average of 3 minutes and 3 seconds—an excellent estimation of time. However, the subjects between 60 and 80 estimated 3 minutes and 40 seconds.

The above results are evidence of the aging brain’s slower processing speeds. This is due to shifts in our brains’ chemical makeup as we age. Because it takes longer to process information, an aging brain may perceive the world to be more fast-paced than it used to be.

Of course, the world didn’t speed up. The brain slowed down.

There are many other theories of time perception out there, and they all seem to share a theme: we’re on the fast track to our inevitable demise.

Don’t despair! These theories offer ways to counter the perception of sped-up time.

The most common answer to “slowing down time” is to break routine. When we create new experiences, our brains pay attention to them differently than a repetitive experience. It’s why we stop noticing our daily commute. It’s also why we recall things in relation to memorable events like weddings, vacations, or world events.

Of course, having a novel experience is easier said than done. We’re all tied down with our jobs, budgets, classes, and other responsibilities. But there are little novel experiences that we can take advantage of every day:

  • Do volunteer work
  • Get to know coworkers
  • Try a new sport or hobby
  • Join a club

The list goes on and on. Yes, new experiences are a time investment, but so is everything else in life. You have the right to spend your time however you please—like reading this blog post.

As for myself, I’ll try to focus on breaking my own routines, including my habitual neglect of this blog.4

Thanks for wasting some of your limited time on this Earth with me.

1. This reference is 16 years old. Ouch. ^
2. This reference is only 3 years old. I’ll take it. ^
3. Frantic Googling. ^
4. Sigh. I’m working on it. ^

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