Why is time passing so slowly?
September 16, 2005 1:53 PM   Subscribe

Inspired by this question, I have to ask the opposite. I've found that as I've gotten older, things in the past seem VERY VERY far away.

The beginning of this past summer seems like a long time ago. Events a year ago, seem as far away as, subjectively, five years felt when I was a kid. Five years ago feels like a different life altogether. I have some friends who also feel this way.

Why would our experience differ so greatly from what's perceived to be the norm? Do you feel this way?
posted by Caviar to Religion & Philosophy (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hard to say why you'd feel that way. How old are you? Have you had a lot of transitions in your life in the last ten years or so—e.g., graduating college, getting married, having kids?

I'm 32, and I find that things that happened before my older child was born (in January 2001) seem long ago. Things that happened before my wedding (in August 1999) sometimes seem forever ago.

But, weirdly, things that've happened since I became a father don't seem that long ago at all. I vividly remember my older child's birth—so vividly it might've happened last week.
posted by cerebus19 at 2:05 PM on September 16, 2005

Caviar, how old are you? And why can't things pass both very quickly and very slowly?

I'm 20, and I find that for me, hours, days, and weeks go much faster than when I was a child, but years seem to pass much slower. That is, I feel like I just started the week (but today is Friday), but a two years ago seems like ages away.

I think that this might be inherent in the nature of accomplishments as you get older. As accomplishments become more and more dependent on many little steps, your daily feeling is that you're not accomplishing anything. But after a year of all these "worthless" little steps, you've accomplished something big, and you're like: "whoa. How did that happen."

In a more concrete example, I've worked in a biomaterials research lab for the last two years. Every day, I do some minor bit of chemistry, a page of calculations, count some cells, or other less than exciting bit of work. The days pass very quickly, because everything I do is pretty minor. But I can barely remember back when I just started working in the lab, mainly because I've learned so much, and use it so much, that I feel like I've always known it.

Of course, cerebus's experiences with his child directly oppose this idea, so it may be complete bunk. :-) Do with it what you will.
posted by arrhn at 2:59 PM on September 16, 2005

Caviar, I'm similar to you, but I think it's because I've "lived many different lives." I've moved moved about eight times in my life, started over each time -- new job, new friends, etc. I've attended three colleges in three different states.

I grew up in Indiana and went to high school there. After high school, I went to college for four years at IU, but then dropped out and moved to London. Then I moved back to the US and finished my undergrad in Florida. Then I moved to Ohio to go to grad school. Then I moved to New York City, which is where I currently live. (This is the SIMPLIFIED version of my life.)

So if you ask me about London or Florida or -- going WAY back -- Indiana. Well, that feels like a lifetime ago.

Strangely, now that I love in NYC, all these worlds are colliding. Pretty much everyone comes to NYC eventually. So I'll be walking down the street and someone will call me name. I'll turn around and it's someone I haven't seen for 30 years -- someone from my childhood in Indiana. These moments feel like the Twilight Zone.

But I'm met other people who are the exact opposite. They've lived in the same place most of their lives -- or they've regularly kept in touch with childhood friends. So their lives have continuity. Mine doesn't. (I have zero friends from pre-high school, one friend from high school, one friend from college, etc.)

I'm always floored by how present high school is for most people. Even when they're 60, they go on and on about their high school years. Mine were as traumatic and eventful as most peoples, but I almost never think about them. They might as well have happened to another person. Someone who lived in a different time, in a different place, with different friends.

Another factor that affects me -- and maybe you -- is that I have a VERY small family. Mom, dad and one brother. No grandparents. My mom, dad and brother live in different states from me, and I don't see them very often. Again: no continuity.

Now, in spite of ALL of this -- paradoxically -- I feel MUCH younger than I am. I'm turning 40 next month. So I was born in 1965. The 60s and 70s seem like last week to me. I'm continually stunned when I think that 1975 was 30 years ago!!! Is that possible? The bicentennial. Didn't that just happen? Nixon resigning. That wasn't so long ago, was it? Weren't we just discussing that new movie, "The Shining"?

Oh, and when do I finally become a grown up?

Time is tricky.
posted by grumblebee at 3:29 PM on September 16, 2005

I think that, when it comes to memory, there's two kinds of people. I use a couple pieces of scientific equipment as metaphors for timelines, and one of them is now archaic. (For those too young to remember, the clear piece with the hairline down the center is a slide rule's cursor.) Some people (like me) can recall their entire life -- it's all there in memory, cataloged chronologically, receeding into the distance, ending in the fuzziness when awareness began. To these people, life is like a graduated cylinder, and the present day is that little plastic thing, kinda like a cursor, used to mark a level. It's set at the current day, and is ever-rising to the top of a cylinder whose height we're not allowed to know. Other people are like a slide rule, with the cursor set at the present, sliding along to the left, into the future. These people can only recall what's immediately behind the cursor, back to some personal marker -- using cerebus19 as an example, his marker is when his shild was born.
posted by Rash at 3:41 PM on September 16, 2005

I don't feel time speeding up much either.

Like grumblebee, I've lived a lot of very disjunct lives (different places, different kinds of work, different friends) and only now are any of them converging. And yeah, high school wasn't particularly important, and I feel much younger than I am, too.

As various people pointed out in the other thread, novelty makes a big difference, and I've experienced (and continue to experience) a lot of it. I like that. I hope I can manage to maintain much of that even if, or when, I find someone to spend my life with.
posted by tangerine at 4:04 PM on September 16, 2005

shild -> child

And I might add, I one for whom time is speeding up, as I age.
posted by Rash at 4:43 PM on September 16, 2005

I for one...
posted by Rash at 4:46 PM on September 16, 2005

I've talked about this with friends before. All of us noticed this happening, too. Our unofficial explanation consisted of the following:

Even with toys and games, being a kid is extremely boring. We're not allowed to do much on our own, forced to sit through school and other tedious things. Time passes very slowly. When we become more independent, we can make better use of our time, and things don't drag as much.

We also develop a ton in the early years, making it feel as if more time has passed. a seven year old is quite different from a ten year old. The difference between 27 and 30 is comparatively quite small.
posted by yorick at 12:55 AM on September 17, 2005

Just realized I was more answering the question you linked to, instead of what you described, but I don't think they're 100% mutually exclusive. That last paragraph was bunk, though, not sure why I wrote that.

Because of the reasons I mentioned above, individual days go by much faster when we're older, especially for those who make good use of their time. Although the present moves quickly, memories of the past will seem more distant because there was more packed into that period of time. The past seems much closer when we're idle. Keeping busy means a greater accumulation of events lodged in our memory, making things seem further away.
posted by yorick at 1:31 AM on September 17, 2005

Second grumblebee's comment about continuity. When your life doesn't have a distinct continuous narrative, time does funny things.
posted by weston at 7:38 AM on September 17, 2005

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