Well, folks, it's here. The day we've all been dreading has finally arrived, signifying just how little the once-ironclad concept of time matters anymore. Your calendar does not deceive you, dear reader -- it is somehow March again.
By some strange, cosmic measure, we have found ourselves both exactly where we began, and somehow so, so far away. A little less than 365 days ago, we were panic buying toilet paper, baking mountains of sourdough, and already getting sick of Zoom parties, convinced life would magically return to normal after the two-week lockdown. We were young, naive, and had only just learned about the concept of social distancing. To quote a TikTok I impulsively made at one day amid the pandemic's early stages, we were the dancing queens, sending memes, stuck in quarantine.
Yet here we are back at the beginning of the cycle. Quarantine is still passing at a glacial pace, while the days, weeks, and months speed ahead. On the precipice of this concerning anniversary, several people have flocked to Twitter to share their thoughts on the past year's rapid pace, critiquing this month's audacity to reappear so soon ...
... time's superfluous nature ...
... and our collective exhaustion, as embodied by Willem Dafoe depicting various sea men.
Yet amid these jokes, a pervasive question remains -- how could the concept of time possibly change so much in a little less than one year? According to a May 2020 Vox interview, Wake Forest Professor, Dr. Adrian Bardon, who has penned several books about time and its perception, including A Brief History of the Philosophy of Time, the answer lies in a concept known as "internal time," a complicated phenomenon stemming from "a whole bunch of internal clocks."
"We've got multiple systems, all of them influencing the subjective perception of time," he told writer Emily VanDerWerff. "We've got systems just for regulating our bodily functions like our sleep cycle. We're constantly interpreting and synchronizing multiple sensory modalities -- our auditory information has to be integrated into and synchronized with what we’re seeing visually, for example. We're constantly switching our attention and regulating attention. We're constantly integrating memories and our anticipations into making plans and performing critical actions."
All of these factors can easily sway how we view the passing days. "So there's a lot of stuff going on all at the same time that all have to do with our internal sense of the passage of time. And with all that complexity, it's no wonder that sometimes our sense of the passage of time can get weird, under weird circumstances, when we're in a weird mood."
According to recent data, it seems that the vast majority of us must have been in a very, very "weird mood" during the early days of quarantine. Last April, Philip Gable, an associate psychology professor at the University of Delaware that has published several papers on motivation says he "asked 1,000 Americans how time seemed to be passing during March." To likely no one's surprise, approximately three in four of respondents reported that they felt the days had moved differently during lockdown. "About half said they felt time dragged, and a quarter indicated that time passed more quickly than normal. The remaining quarter reported that they didn’t experience a change in the passage of time," he recalled an editorial for Fast Company last year.
The perception of how exactly time shifted depended on several personal factors. "Whether time slowed or sped up was most closely related to people’s emotions. Those who reported that they were most nervous or stressed also indicated that time passed more slowly, while those who felt happy or glad tended to experience time passing more quickly."
Another contributor in this shift, especially in the common instance of time slowing, seemingly comes from the scope of our lives. "In March, you were able to have more outward-directed attention," Bardon explained. "There was more stuff going on outside of your house and projects you could do. In April, everyone settled into the stuck-at-home situation. The more you do it, the more you're in that situation, the more you start ruminating. You're chewing over the things that are bothering you."
In the year since, it seems very little has changed. Time is seemingly as off as it was. inthe early days of lockdown, however, it seems things may soon change. With mass vaccination efforts, some experts are predicting an "amazing summer" followed by more uncertain seasons before we finally usher out our pandemic state. It's been a long year, but we're almost there.
So folks, if the days ever seem entirely out of sync, remember relief is on its way. To paraphrase a wise woman once stuck in a time loop of her own ...