The measurement of time is a human invention, something we made to organise our lives. But as you get older, do you get the sense that there isn’t as much time as there used to be?
It’s not just you. I feel it too, and it’s a lively discussion amongst academics and laypeople alike. So let’s get into a few of the ideas. And let’s see if any of these are reasons that you can relate to.
Maths. Just maths.
First up is using maths to understand the problem, in what is called ‘proportionality theory’. In this, it presents the idea that a year feels faster when you’re 60 than when you’re 10 because it only constitutes one sixtieth of your life rather than one sixth. That sounds logical, but Claudia Hammond, in her book Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception, shoots it down:
The problem with the proportionality theory is that it fails to account for the way we experience time at any one moment. We don’t judge one day in the context of our whole lives. If we did, then for a 40-year-old every single day should flash by because it is less than one fourteen-thousandth of the life they’ve had so far. It should be fleeting and inconsequential, yet if you have nothing to do or an enforced wait at an airport for example, a day at 40 can still feel long and boring and surely longer than a fun day at the seaside packed with adventure for a child. … It ignores attention and emotion, which … can have a considerable impact on time perception.
OK, say maybe maths isn’t the answer. What else could it be?
The strength of nostalgia
Another theory is what is called the ‘reminiscence bump’, or, to give it another, simpler name, nostalgia. It is thought that we have our strongest experiences between the ages of 15 and 25. This, and that as children we have what is probably our biggest period of new discoveries and experiences. That newness of things can put a what seems like a stronger placemarker in our memories. Something like a bent corner of a page that is easy to find.
Also, if it’s what you regard as significant, it runs the chance of being a memory that you’ve accessed often in your life. And if it’s been made to appear to be a fresh memory, it can be a shock when you realise that is was longer ago than you think.
This happens to me when I look at the year a film or song was released. All. The. Time!
A more recent theory is that our perception of time is being altered by the sheer speed of modern life. We’re contactable everywhere with mobile phones, news comes at us 24/7 in all sorts of places, there’s more forms of entertainment and hobbies… and with the addition of grandkids in our lives the exhausting speed at which they go can surely make it seem like time is flying.
Fun, fun, fun
Speaking of which, there’s the old adage ‘time flies when you’re having fun’. If that’s true, then I suppose it takes the steam out of complaining about time speeding up. Or does it? Can you have your cake and complain about it too?
Do you feel like time is speeding up as you get older? Do you have another theory that we haven’t mentioned? Is there something that you do, see or feel that brings on this notion of time speeding up? Do you make it feel like there’s more time by simply slowing down?
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic… if you have the time! 😉