Tempus fugit or in search of affective-time

I may be losing my mind.  Or it may hormonal (I’ve been going through “the change” for about three years now).  It could also just be a normal part of aging about which I didn’t receive adequate warning.

I’m talking about “time.”  Time changes as you age.  It moves faster.  This is not a secret.  Since time immemorial, the old have warned the young not to waste their youth.  We are mortal, corporeal, and temporal. Tempus fugit. We’ve always known this, and yet…

Kitty Carlisle, who was old for a long time, famously said, “You know you’re getting older when every day seems like Monday.”  We don’t think enough about the ramifications that many of us exist in different time zones, even as we work and live together.

I am not so much asking where did the time go, as I am amazed by its acceleration.  In a normal day in my twenties or even thirties, I might get up, go running or do some other exercise, read a paper, have breakfast, all this and somehow be at work on time.  Then after work there would be socializing.  Sometimes even activities that extended into the next day.  Still the rent got paid — by which I mean checks were sent, without even using the “time saving” Internet, but written and mailed.  Other tasks were also taken care of.  Yet now, I start on an assignment and the day is gone.  It used to be that dull tasks felt like that they took forever.  Now every time I look at a clock, hours have passed no matter what I was doing, and I wonder, “Where did the time go?”

It feels more and more wrong.  Like I’m in an episode of Twilight Zone or on that island in Lost.   People with certain psychiatric conditions talk of “losing time,” but I can account for my time. It’s not really lost, just gone.  Maybe there’s always a generation gap because the old and the young are experiencing a completely different sense of time.  Maybe it’s a miracle we can even see each other.

Is any of this making sense?

I noticed early on that things were getting faster.  Even as a teenager it was clear to me that summers were much shorter than they used to be. At some point in my twenties, I recalled a party and realized it had happened, five years before, which was astonishing. But by the time I was thirty, there were people I hadn’t seen in ten years.  Now it’s twenty, thirty?  And they always show up in Facebook, and you either don’t remember them at all OR it’s like yesterday.

Time’s winged chariot is approaching quickly.  The issue is not that I (probably) have fewer tomorrows than yesterdays, it’s that the remaining tomorrows will feel shorter and shorter.  In the way that we experience time, childhood is not our first 12 years, it’s probably closer to half of how we feel time even if we live to be a hundred.  I’m going to coin a phrase here, I think, “affective time.” Affective time is not time on the clock.  It’s time as we experience it.

Affective time is why an infant panics when his mother is gone, but may attach to a babysitter within minutes.  Affective time is why you may remember how you spent your childhood waiting till you would be a “teenager” like your cool big brother four years your senior, and it felt like you were never, ever going to reach that goal.

The implications are this: At twenty you may look ahead and imagine another sixty years of activity.  You may think that if you are lucky, and the genes are good, life will be long.  It won’t be.  You’ll never have enough time. It’s almost irrelevant if you die at forty or eighty because after forty every time you blink, it’s your birthday.

So here’s my very unscientific imagining of an 80-year life span divided into affective time.

Age 0-3:  3 chronological years =  Time moves so slowly we can’t even measure it.  Everything feels like forever.  The good part is, you won’t remember most of it.  The bad part is whatever you experience will somehow stay with you and influence who you are for the rest of your life.

Age 3-13:    11 chronological years =   25 years in affective time

Age 14-24:  11 chronological years =   20 years in affective time

Age 25-35:  11 chronological years =   15 years in affective time

Age 36-46   11 chronological years =   10 years in affective time*

Age 47-57   11 chronological years =     5 years in affective time

Age 58-80   23 chronological years =     5 years in affective time.**

*Middle age is the point at which affective time begins to move more quickly than actual chronological time. Keep in mind that the above chart is an estimate. Affective time accelerates constantly, so between the chronological age of 36 – 40 affective time may still be slower than chronological time, but from 41- 46, it may begin to speed ahead of it.

**If you live past 80, it’ll be happening so fast, you’ll get motion sickness standing still.

Mortality is kind of a bitch.

4 thoughts on “Tempus fugit or in search of affective-time

  1. So affective time is relative the the amount of time spent.

    To a ten year-old. Four years until he is as “cool” as his 14 year-old older sister is 40% of all the time he’s ever experienced.

    To a 61 year-old, waiting the same four years until retirement is less than 7% (thereabouts, my math is fuzzy) of all the time he’s experienced.

    You are on to something. It effects a lot of things. One hour left on a ten-hour translatlantic flight isn’t so bad. One hour left on a 2 1/2 hour jaunt to Florida leaves me to say “are we there yet?”

    Affective time remaining on the long haul is 10%, but affective time remaining on the sort hop is 40%! Affective time is 4x as much.

    1. But it’s even more than that. It’s some whacky internal chronometer that has little to do with physics. What’s the thing they always say about your last moments? Your entire life flashes before your eyes.

  2. if time is coterminous, as i suspect, your persuasive theory about the widely-acknowledged fact of its “speeding up” as we age is merely a function of what one might dub “relayed consciousness”. my feeling is that as we age, our load of experienced moments increases to the extent of making new experiences seem familiar and recognized, hence experienced less intensely, more fleetingly.

    my dad is past 80. i must ask him whether he is experiencing motion sickness. because it may also be that around that age, one acquires the ability to seize the moment in a more forceful and effective way.

  3. As it was once explained to me… when you are two years old, a year is half of your life. When you are 20, a year is only 1/20, likewise when you are 60, a year is a very small part of your life. Which is why it seems like FOREVER when waiting for that next birthday when you get to drive the car, while noon comes waaaaay too quickly when you are 50, and 51 is just a few SHORT months away…

Comments are closed.