Time and The Telephone
Five years ago I became involved in a Christian Facebook group called [redacted group name] focused on discernment of false doctrine, exposing those who teach it, and understanding the implications of end-time prophecy.
Every day, at least several times, Facebook notifies me of someone posting in the group, someone commenting on an existing post in the group, and such.
Every day. For five years.
I remember the day quite well that the group began as an outgrowth of comments on the Worldview Weekend page and some social networking that occurred between the most involved commenters. I was sitting in my living room, having just started 8th grade, wondering how my birthday party would go the following week, with each of the two cats (both alive at the time) lounging around. It was a lazy afternoon and I even remember the initial ping when Facebook notified me that I’d been added to [redacted group name].
Five years ago today also happens to mark Hurricane Irene’s destruction along the East Coast, which killed around fifty people if my memory holds true and caused several billion dollars in damage.
I’ve been reminded of Irene approximately zero times since 2011, though I still remember watching Channel One News in the eighth grade as journalists documented the absolute havoc it left.
The contrast between the beginning of [redacted group name] and Irene comes in how long ago they feel. In a strange sort of nostalgic skewing, I remember, despite its complete insignificance in my life and in the overall narrative of the human race, that first day in the Facebook group more recently than I remember Irene’s touchdown. Two memories can operate on independent time lines, where events that occurred the same time ago feel eons apart until we force ourselves to accept that they happened together.
What causes nostalgic skewing? I would speculate that increasing the number of iterations between then and now would decrease how long it feels internally.
In his essay The Telephone Anwar Accawi tells the dynamics of his childhood village and how they change when a villager purchases a telephone. Throughout his essay Accawi addresses the flow of time and how it “didn’t mean much to anybody, except maybe those who were dying.” His descriptions of village life focus on time as notional, one day bluring into the next much like shades of yellow blur into shades of blue and somewhere between existed green, but none could say when. Accawi writes that
“in those days, there was no real need for a calendar or a watch to keep track of the hours, days, months, and years. We knew what to do and when to do it, just as the Iraqi geese knew when to fly north, driven by the hot wind that blew in from the desert, and the ewes knew when to give birth to wet lambs that stood on long, shaky legs in the chilly March wind. The only timepiece we had need of then was the sun. It rose and set, and the seasons rolled by, and we sowed seed and harvested and ate and played… We lived and loved and toiled and died without ever needing to know what year it was, or even the time of day.”
This lifestyle comes into sharp relief against the American society which Accawi’s family would later enter. Americans hustle. We rush to work, to meetings within work, to complete projects by a deadline (deadline as in: if you miss this date, you are dead). The mentality of punctuality is predicated on everyone knowing the proper time. In all, we posses an increased awareness of and sensitivity to time.
We’ve been conditioned for this since first grade. Elementary school children live from bell to bell and have no concept of education without segmented and mutually exclusive subjects. This became so widespread that teachers in my school were met with incredible resistance for attempting to require one essay from science class, one science problem consulted in math class, one or more science-based books read in reading class, and such. Each course belongs where it belongs, when it belongs.
When we pack our days with activities, they feel shorter. When we pack our schedule with six AP classes and sports here and church activities there, they feel shorter. 24 hours still exist in the day. Around 16 hours still exist in the waking day. Yet time moves differently based on the degree to which the activities in it vary.
Time doesn’t necessarily fly when having fun; time flies when segmented.
I’ve experienced this contrast in moving to college. Rather than seven class periods of equal length and a very regimented daily routine, I have two hours of class at random times in the day, with the rest left for an amorphous glob of activities called “studying.” The days feel different. Time doesn’t escape me. Rather, I can barely escape it.
For a final example, Accawi’s village uses a system of tracking years (when they think to do so) using natural events to set the time. One woman was born “shortly after the big snow that caused the roof on the mayor’s house to cave in.”
When did the big snow come? It came “about the time we had the big earthquake that cracked the wall in the east room.”
Accawi remarks, “Well, that was enough for me. You couldn’t be more accurate than that, now, could you?”