Research Shows We Experience Time Travel as We Age
Not sure if you know, it’s October. Fall is here. Halloween is right around the corner, and right around the corner from that is Thanksgiving and Christmas. That’s right. Christmas.
You may have noticed that the spooks are out in the stores and thought to yourself, “I can’t believe it’s October already.” Maybe you even said it out loud. And someone who overheard you responded with, “I know, it’s going to be 2017 before you know it.” 2017. Another year, gone. Just like that. If you find yourself scratching your head wondering how it is that time is flying by so quickly, you’re not alone. But you may notice that while the adults are searching for confirmation that time is indeed whizzing by at lightning speeds, the kids are still stuck in a slow motion version of our lives, always asking, “Are we there yet?” and “What if Christmas never gets here?”
So, what’s going on? Is time really passing by much faster now than it did before and the kids are just getting more impatient? No. Rest assured, time is still ticking away at the same pace it always has. It’s our perception of time that seems to be changing and causing the shift in how quickly (or how slowly) it is seemingly passing us by. There are a number of theories around the phenomena of “time flying by,” some of which claim that aging has something to do with the change in our perception of time. Isn’t it that as you’ve gotten older that you find yourself feeling like time is passing by much quicker than when you were young? It’s easy enough to accept the fact that as we get older, time just slips away. There’s nothing we can do about it.
But if we were to dig into these theories more, we may be pleasantly surprised to find that maybe it’s not the aging aspect that is distorting our perception of time. What if, regardless of age, you had the ability to slow down time and go back to when time didn’t seem to be passing by quickly enough? Back in the 19th Century, psychologist William James wrote:
“…and it is certain that, in great part at least, the foreshortening of the year as we grow older is due to the monotony of memory’s content, and the consequent simplification of the backward-glancing view. In youth we may have an absolutely new experience, subjective or objective, every hour of the day. Apprehension is vivid, retentiveness strong, and our recollections of that time, like those of a time spent in rapid and interesting travel, are of something intricate, multitudinous, and long-drawn-out. But each passing year converts some of this experience into automatic routine which we hardly note at all, the days and the weeks smooth themselves out in recollection to contentless units, and the years grow hollow and collapse.” (James, W. (1890) Principles of Psychology, pg. 625)
As we get older, we no longer experience all the “firsts” as we did when we were young. Long gone are the days filled with new experiences — first date, first puppy, first kiss, first snow, first baby — and in their place are days filled with mundane activities and the number of truly memorable events decrease. Our years are growing hollow and collapsing! But wait, there are clues here to possibly help slow down the time as we move forward. If it’s having more intricate, exciting memories, why not make an effort to create them? Find something new to learn. Go on new adventures. Make new memories. Have more “firsts.” Those firsts just might add some speed bumps to our journey through time.
But, don’t stress too much about finding these “first” experiences as other studies have found that stress can have a big impact on our perception of time. First reported in a 2005 study by Marc Wittman and Sandra Lehnhoff, and later supported by a study by William Friedman, Steve Janssen and Makiko Naka in 2013, the studies found that rather than the age of the subject, the time pressures experienced by the subject affected perception of time more. Those that felt that they did not have time to complete all of their tasks in the time they had — especially those in the age range with a lot of responsibilities in their family and professional lives — felt that time was flying by. Think back to the last time you had a million things to do, and one hour to do them all. Didn’t that hour just fly by? The perceived duration of time drastically shortens, and yet, time itself isn’t moving forward any faster than usual.
Ultimately, time is time. The speed at which it passes is not going to change. We are the ones who are changing. From experiences to time pressures, we aren’t fully in control of how our time perceptions change. Another theory that might explain what’s really happening shows that our perception of time is relative to the total amount of time we’ve been alive. What this is saying is that the span of one year in relation to our lifetime becomes smaller as we get older. What was once literally one hundred percent of our lifetime when we were one year olds is only a little over six percent of our lifetime by the time we reach 16. For those of us who get to 98 years old, one year is only about 1 percent. As French philosopher Paul Janet stated in his “ratio theory,” we perceive time in relation to the span of our lives. Austrian designer Maximilian Kiener provides a great visual to explain this theory — visit his website to see the interactive visual experience depicting a lifetime.
But, as some may argue, we don’t always consider time based on our lives as a whole. We don’t look back on an experience or period in our lives and compare it to the total number of years we’ve been alive. Rather, we have “stages” that we go through, and often times, we’re living “in the moment.” (Swanson, A., The Washington Post, Why half of the life you experience is over by age 7, 2015)
Time perception is complicated. But spending a lot of time to solve the mysteries of the passage of time as we age may not be time well spent. After all, time is flying by, isn’t it? It may serve us better to leave the mystery to the researchers while we enjoy the time we have and fully engage in the activities in which we are involved. After all, making memories that are intricate and memorable just might help slow down our internal clocks and alter our perception of time.
At Nowvel, write about topics like this because we believe in the power of memories — and not losing them, whether permanently losing them or simply losing them via the cyberjunk that we all experience. By making premium photo books simpler and easier to make, we strive to turn photos that too often get buried on our iPhones and social media into rediscoverable stories, emotions and conversations that live forever. Please visit Nowvel.com or download our photo book iPhone app if you’re interested in turning your photos into permanent memories, such as About Me photo books of your kids and pregnancy journal photo books to tell your once-in-a-lifetime story with your child.