Playing tricks with time

​Twelve years is a brief period. A flash on the timeline of history.

I’ve been reading Debt: The First 5000 Years. In it, David Graeber talks about a passing phase in a country’s development. He says that twelve years is a small amount of time. I mean, he’s right. When your timescale is five thousand years, twelve years isn’t much. But he’s also wrong. 

Very wrong.

Every one is familiar with the days where time moves like a glacier. Perhaps it’s your last day at work before you fly to Italy. Or you’ve gone to a party, are hating it, and are waiting for the moment when it’s acceptable to leave.

Time can also fly.

Days spent with people we care about are never long enough. Once in a lifetime experiences don’t last a lifetime. There are moments we wish we could extend for eternity. But we can’t.

From a distance, looking back, we can skate over the years. Our minds and memories flow from year to year and decade to decade with astonishing speed. But up close, in the moment, time can extend. It can feel longer than it really is, for better or worse.

I’ve spent most of my younger years working behind bars and in restaurants. If someone’s waiting for a coffee, every second they continue to wait feels like an eternity for the barista. The barista is intensely aware of the passing of time between ordering and receiving. 

But the customers? The ones sat in the window, basking in the joy their time together brings? They have no awareness of how long they’re waiting. For them, the minutes feel like seconds. For the barista, every second feels like a minute.

Each situation gives rise to a different experience of time. Perhaps this is what Einstein formulated with relativity? I don’t know. I’m not a scientist.

But I do know that time plays tricks on the human mind. And that the human mind can itself play with the feeling of time.