During this time of year, the concept of time is ever more present. New Year’s is still fresh in our minds, as well as all of our resolutions for the year ahead. Office workers are about to receive their performance reviews on the year that has gone by, and their bonuses will be determined on whether or not they’ve hit their targets in the specified time frame they were being measured on. As human beings engaged in the productive economic chain, time feels like it’s either flying by or dragging on.
But the concept of time isn’t an objective one. As Luiz Felipe Pondé so eloquently explained on the year-end episode of Linhas Cruzadas titled “Is the New Year an illusion?”, there are many different types of time studied in the field of philosophy: cosmic time, physiological time, sociological time, and even technological time.
Cosmic time is indifferent to us. As people living in the pale blue dot, we are simply related to it in an ephemeral way. This is the Universe’s time – where time is relative to the distance of space itself.
Physiological time can be best understood as cellular or biological. Our bodies are all aging, yet the way we experience it is completely outside of our control. People can try to alter it with medical procedures to change its appearance but you can’t effectively change its pace. And once it expires, our physiology simply dissolves and we turn into dust.
Sociological time is the one humans in the 21st century are most familiar with. It’s composed of calendars, the pace of the productive economic chain, juristic sentences, deadlines, etc. However, what most people don’t realize is that this experience of time is a fairly recent phenomena in human history. 50,000 years ago – and for that matter, even just 1,000 years ago -, there was no sociological time. There were no calendars, New Year’s parties, deadlines. The majority of human existence has happened in times of repetition – whether or not it was Monday or Saturday, you did the exact same things. For contrast, modern social time in a place like New York City goes by a lot faster than in Woodville, Mississippi. The reason being that social relations in NYC are expensive and you need to generate economic activity, so whether you complete a task now or in one hour can cost a business a lot of money.
Finally, technological time is one that takes place within the Web 2.0 (ie.: social media). It runs in parallel to sociological time, but follows different rules – the distance from point A to B is irrelevant, unlike in the real world; or when having a debate online, your argument will repeat itself to everyone who reads it, enabling hundreds of people to partake in the discussion without your presence. This type of time is the newest and is getting faster with each year that goes by.
Much of the discontents of modern society today derives from their relationship with time. Whether someone passes away, or you’re in a deadline crunch, or a pandemic pushed you to work fully online and remote – it feels like there’s never enough time. This subjective experience cannot be taken lightly as time is the only finite resource we have, physiologically speaking.
And so, making the most of our time doesn’t fall on doing more things in less time, since time itself is experienced subjectively. Rather it comes down to pausing and truly appreciating our movement through it – the smells, sights, sounds and thoughts that are constantly morphing into our human experience. Maybe then, and only then, the time we have will feel like enough.