Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Baby Nuthouse: the morphing of time

“How much longer till we get there?” asks my five-year-old son.
“About 20 minutes,” I tell him.
“But,” he whines, “that’s like forever!”
“It’s really not,” I promise. “Although, if you complain the entire time it will feel like forever.”

During moments like these, I recall my Time Morph Theory. This theory has three parts, and the first is the primary reason behind my son’s impatience:

Part 1: The Speed of Time accelerates in direct proportion to one’s age

In other words, the older you get, the faster the time flies by.
So, at age 5,
20 minutes = Forever
But at age 35,
20 minutes = Blink of an Eye

The term “morph” indicates a gradual, almost imperceptible change from childhood’s “The week leading up to my birthday party feels like six months” to adulthood’s “Wasn’t I just babysitting that kid the other day, and here he is graduating high school.”

The second part of the theory can occur at any age, and is also related to my son’s impatience while strapped in a car seat:

Part 2: The Speed of Time accelerates in direct proportion to how busy one is and/or how much fun one is having

For example, my husband and I like to go snowboarding. We travel to the resort, then one person hits the slopes for half a day while the other stays with the kids, then we switch. Rate of time passage varies dramatically throughout the day, as you can see from these figures:

One hour snowboarding = 15 minutes

One hour with three children confined to hotel room = 3 hours

To support my theory I often try to guess how much time has passed during certain activities.
For instance, let’s say I’m chatting on the phone with a friend. After we hang up, I try to guess how long we talked. Well, it felt like about 20 minutes. I look at the call timer on my cell phone. The conversation had lasted one hour and six minutes.
Now imagine I go for a run. After jogging for some time, I’m starting to feel winded, and I am quite convinced I’ve been at it for at least half an hour. I check my watch. Eight minutes, 24 seconds.

The last part of the theory has to do with the meaning associated with different times of day:

Part 3: Specific times of day are perceived in varying ways depending upon one’s life stage

I remember when staying up until 10:00 p.m. was reserved for special occasions like the Fourth of July.
Then, I got a little older and being up at 10 was no longer a big deal.
In college it was not unusual to be just going out at 10.
Now it’s my target bedtime. (A target I seldom hit, but still.) Leaving the house after 10:00 seems ludicrous.

On the other hand, 3:30 a.m. went from being something I slept through, to the time I’d come home after a night that began at 10 p.m. Later it was sleeping time again, until that first night in the hospital with a newborn. After a few years of 3:30 a.m. awakenings, it has (thankfully) gone back to being a time I rarely see.

As you can see, the Time Morph Theory can explain a lot about how we perceive time and what happens to those months that seem to end the day after they begin. This theory won’t help my son endure his 20 long minutes of boredom, but maybe it will help me to be more understanding of his plight.

If you’d like to strengthen and improve my theory, please leave a comment with your own observations about the morphing of time.

And if you have a minute, watch this video: The Years Are Short. (In case you're wondering, yes, it did make me cry.)


cloudsters said...

And there we were thinking that we needed some fancy physics textbook to explain time-bending and such like.

Enjoyed the posts! Can always do with more humour to brighten the day (oh, no, but then that'd be fun, and then the sand in the hourglass will roar down even faster, and then...)

Anonymous said...

It's kind of like when we snowboard together and it seems to take you 30 minutes to get down the slope and it takes me 15 minutes. When I look at my watch I realize it did take me 15 minutes and you don't come down for another 15 minutes.

Angela said...

it made me cry, too...
and, i loved the phone call... seemed like moments to me...
of course, it may not have been me you were talking about. maybe you talk to other friends sometimes, too... but it could have been. so i'll pretend it was, and now i am famous b/c you blogged about how we talk on the phone.

Maureen said...

In my child development classes we learned that time does in fact go slower when you are young. The reason is that you are learning so much still and your memories and nueron connections are not the same as an adult. SO, if you think about it, S***** is soaking everything up, she doesn't know as much as N***, and because of that, time goes slower for her than for N***, and slower for N*** than for you and I. Kind of like how we can look at signs that we see all over the road, and we don't even have to read them, we already know what they say. Add that to all of the experiences we have stored in our memories, compared to how little they have....and time flies for us. Not sure if this makes sense when I'm tyoing it out, but if I explained it in person, it would be a better explanation.