The Loss of Time

When all the days seem the same and the patterns of daily life endlessly repeat, you can begin to feel that time is gone.  The clock has stopped.  Nothing progresses. Everything is now.  The future, even the past, is on hold.  Everything will repeat, again and again.

Of course, repetition has always been true. Birth, growing up, leaving the nest, maturing, aging, failing, and dying is a familiar pattern that usually takes 60-80 years.  However, the pattern now takes only months.  Millions of people have been accelerated through these transitions.  Hundreds of thousands have experienced their lives short-circuited.

But, why does time seem so untidy?  It is because the usual patterns are disrupted.  Saturday and Sunday used to be different from Monday through Friday.  A chance to unwind for brunch at a favorite pub has disappeared.  The homemade mimosas don’t seem as good, even though they are much less expensive.

There is a loss of predictability.   We used to know, if only implicitly, how most days would play out.  Now, it seems more ad hoc, and mostly limited to Zoom exchanges.  The times at the pub where you could learn your colleagues’ political persuasions and sports team preferences are gone.  This limits your opportunities to congratulate or commiserate with this week’s outcomes.

People are meant to socially interact to accomplish work, discuss and debate, have fun, etc.  Now, almost the whole world only exists on screens – TV, laptops and phones.  It helps if you already know the people online.  If the relationships are new, it is a bit difficult to feel that you have actually met these people.

Quite often, I arise to ask myself what date it is. My answer, “August.”  What time is it?  My answer, “Morning.”  Unless there is a Zoom meeting scheduled, I don’t need to be more precise.  If the current situation persists, my answer to the date question will be, “2020.”  Time is suspended until – well, who knows?

There are other more subtle differences.  How long will it take to commute to my office and be at my desk?  It used to be a 30-40 minute walk.  Now it is 20-30 seconds depending on whether I swing by the coffee pot for a refill.  So, round trip, I save more than an hour commuting, although I lose out on 5,000 or more steps.

This extra hour per day, combined with Saturday and Sunday being just like Monday through Friday, results in many more work hours and significantly increased productivity.  I have completed items on my “to do” list that were not due for several weeks, sometime months.  Rather than 40 work hours per week, I could now have 80 hours.

There is a down side to this.  Working 80 hours is not a sustainable strategy.  My response has been to ration work and allocate hours to other activities that can also be pursued in semi-quarantine.  As I quickly tire of TV, this involves much reading.  In the past couple of weeks, I read:

  • In light of recent events, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave.  This compelling first-hand report of the horrors of slavery in the US moves beyond abstractions to the harsh daily reality of being a slave.
  • A recent wonderful read was Andrew Lawler’s Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?: The Epic Saga of the Bird that Powers Civilization. It is a wonderful chronicle of history, geography, and science.  I raised chickens as a boy, yet I learned so much from this book.
  • I took a break — a holiday — with two of my favorite murder mystery and detective novelists, John Grisham’s Camino Winds and Michael Connelly’s Fair Warning.  I find that reading each of these “page turners” within 24 hours works best for me.
  • Most recently, I quickly consumed Mary Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.  I am not usually attracted to “tell all” books, but her professional credentials and inside access made a difference and was, to an extent, a quite chilling portrayal of a dysfunctional family.

Consuming five books in a couple of weeks is a substantial benefit of time being lost.  I am no longer in a rush to anywhere.  Yet, despite the benefits of so much time, I really miss watching a crucial sporting match at my local pubs and sharing highs, lows, insights, and boasts.



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