“It was suicide.

Others killed themselves with poison or with a revolver.

I killed myself with minutes and hours.”

Henri Barbusse


We are always moving through the cycle of existence, there is no stillness, only movement and transformation.


I’ve written about procrastination as well as measured time versus experience time and chronos and kairos, but today I will speak of a relationship with time and how it has become unhealthy.

Prior to the invention of clocks time was mostly driven by light (sundials) and tasks (harvest). The work took as long as it took and what could be done was done when the sun was shining. We slept when it was dark and, uhm, when we were tired. Yeah. Our attitudes toward sleep is cultural. Naps, siestas, and breaks in the hottest part of days, are part of society unless, of course, if you are American, the land of the people who are always exhausted and unwilling to waste time napping. I say all that to suggest time and culture have a relationship. That said. What I do know is that uniform timekeeping is inextricably tied to industrialization. I’m not suggesting that we haven’t always sought better ways to assess time or even to make better clocks and time keepers, what I am suggesting is that timekeeping has become the default for society’s view of time. And therein lies an issue we have truly failed to grapple with as a society – and individually. By looking at clocks and the time keepers we’ve forgot to look at time itself. We have sought to try to discipline time using it to discipline us (humans). The problem is the time is elastic. Yeah. Time seems short in good time and bad times seem to last forever. Tahat happens despite the fact we clearly know that time never really slows down, it is more in how we remember events that make us believe that time has either sped up or slowed down. Uhm. This also suggests the brain itself is elastic. Or maybe I should say that the brain has some emergent characteristics in that our senses adapt to context.

Which leads me to circle back to time and how it is measured.

If all of those human characteristics I just described are elastic, why wouldn’t we always be in conflict with time in our relentless attempts to discipline it? Maybe we were happier when we didn’t try to discipline time and we treated it as elastic – just as we are? Maybe we need to remember we still got work done and, in fact, the quality of work was often quite good. Maybe we need to remember that we weren’t always trying to cram that work into minutes, or hours. The day was the day, daylight was daylight, and we did what we could do. Maybe we need to remember time has always been in a limited supply and yet we used to demand less things of it.

All of this isn’t to say that the telling of time has been a human pursuit from the beginning of time. Sundials water clocks, lunar cycles, even astrology, attempted to give humans a sense of how time passes. But I would argue all of those things gave us all some room. Some space. Its lack of its exactness gave us the ability to live a slightly less exact life. It gave us some breathing room to still get everything done, but without exact time specificity. The patterns of our behavior and our attitudes, I would guess, were just a little less exact, a little less measured, and a lot more a reflection of a natural rhythm of human nature. We were dedicated a little less to time and a little more to what needed to be done – and life itself. We lived just a little more in sync with nature and coherence to whomever we were interacting with – and not to time itself. Maybe what I am suggesting is that time measurement was created by humans and maybe we should measure life, and tasks, through the social aspect of humans in their connectivity and interactions then to some time measurement device which puts unnatural demands upon us.

I imagine I am suggesting measurement of time IS reductionism where we are encouraged to believe time is shorter and shorter. That’s nuts. In our attempt to keep up with the faster pace of time (that statement is also nuts), before long we begin shortening our demands of time. What I mean by that is we demand more and more within less and less time and, yet, our expectations of what comes of it are smaller and smaller. What I do know is that the result of this generalized speedup of everything creates a high-stakes, high-adrenaline environment with lower and lower true involvement with the depth and breadth of time. What I do know is that within this environment it is easy to see why people wonder what exactly they are doing and why.

“I knew it wasn’t too important, but it made me sad anyway.”

J.D. Salinger

Maybe the worst of all our habits in a bite-size time world is the one which leads us away from deeper more complex, more contemplative, time, and leads us a bit closer to a manmade time addiction-style superficial involvement. I imagine the question isn’t whether our attitude toward time is making us smarter or dumber, but rather are we losing control of how we think despite trying to control time. It almost feels like squeezing time encourages us to skim through life (despite the fact our resumes are strewn with proof of goals met, milestones achieved and things done).

To be clear. Humans, brains and bodies, are pretty resilient things and what is occurring today, negatively, may simply be the precursor of something positive in body and brain. The truth is that extended time, historical epochs, have shown time and time again that we have extended our brains and how we think and assimilate. regardless. We shouldn’t just be storing ideas and things we have done; we should be letting some things simmer a bit before bringing it to boil – naturally rather than in some time disciplined way. I do believe we have an unhealthy relationship with time and I do believe more of us are killing ourselves through minutes and hours than by any other means. Ponder.

Written by Bruce