I know I’m not alone in feeling like years seem to go by faster and faster all the time.
Perhaps more this year than ever, I’ve heard several different people talking about it. Maybe you’ve felt that way, too, or at least heard the talk.
“It seems like yesterday that the temperature was 100 degrees.”
“It seems like just last week that I was doing my taxes.”
“I can still hear those spring storms blowing through like it was a couple of days ago.”
Why is that?
Is it because life is moving at such a breakneck pace, as we attempt to pack more and more stuff into each passing 24-hour period?
Is it because our brains have difficulty discerning a minute from an hour and because they’re so overloaded with technological mumbo-jumbo, and inundated with electronic cerebral junk mail?
Or has there been a disruption in the space-time continuum causing planets to spin faster on their axis and orbit around stars quicker, and the hands of clocks really are moving more rapidly now than before?
Or could it be that this just an example of a non-issue being treated like there’s something to it?
I don’t know, although I’m guessing the laws of physics remain intact (at least for now) and Earth is rotating and revolving at its usual rate.
But never wanting to accept something like this without dissecting it until it makes even less sense, I did a little (not in-depth) research to see if there was a scientific explanation or maybe even an official name for this phenomenon (which I’ll call “perceived elapsed time syndrome” – or PETS; kind of sounds official, doesn’t it).
Not surprisingly, my search didn’t reveal any concrete data or definitive conclusions, but I did come across some interesting information. Interesting, but somewhat disappointing, too.
One source said that time seeming to speed up has to do with age. The basic concept is that as we get older, years become smaller and smaller fraction of our total lifetime, and therefore seem shorter.
The source even broke the idea down by comparing how much a five-year span represents at different stages of life:
5 = 1/1
10 = 1/2
15 = 1/3
20 = 1/4
25 = 1/5
30 = 1/6
35 = 1/7
40 = 1/8
45 = 1/9
50 = 1/10, and so on.
This makes some sense.
When we’re young, we haven’t lived through many years, so they seem like virtually unending marathons, and future events seem to take forever to come to pass.
In my own experience, I can remember looking forward to summer vacation and then feeling like it would never arrive, as April and May seemed to drag on and on. I remember feeling like it took half of forever to travel to grandma and grandpa’s house that was really only about four hours miles away from where my family lived at the time. And I remember how baseball games, scout troop meetings and movies all seemed to last soooooo long.
It stands to reason that as we age, and bits of time become smaller and smaller fractions of our lives, segments of time would seem shorter. In turn, last spring ends up seeming like last week at the beginning of December, and every year when your vehicle registration is due, you could swear you just took care of it the other day.
Taking this into consideration, I guess this year seemed to go by quicker than ever because I’m getting so old.
Another source presented a theory basically stating that when we repeat the same patterns day after day and year after year, unique or lasting impressions are less likely to be made in our minds than if we do something new and different now and then. The result was said to be that time seems to pass more quickly because there’s nothing in our memory banks to separate one period from the rest.
The suggested remedy was to – as often as possible – create or take advantage of new and unique experiences that would form distinct memories.
This theory, like the first, makes some sense to me. Without highlights to break up the pattern of monotony, what’s to set apart one piece of time from the rest? Without something to differentiate segments of time from others, wouldn’t it all just become a blur and seem to go by in a hurry?
The problem with this situation is that repetition is simply a standard feature of lots of peoples’ lives.
Many operate on fairly consistent schedules, often involving jobs that require doing the same tasks, seeing the same people, and even driving the same roads most days. Then they go home and watch TV and eat the same brand and flavor of chips.
That, unfortunately, doesn’t produce many openings for highlights to squeeze through.
To put this theory in other words, time seems to go by faster to someone whose existence is tedious and uninteresting. So I guess in order to slow things down, people just need to get a life.
Hmmm, I’ve been feeling like this year has gone by faster than usual. By these standards that means I’m not only old, I’m also dull and boring.
I can’t think of any way to avoid losing the battle with age, but maybe I’ll take a different route home from work today.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: email@example.com.