Under the Sun
In race against time, no one really can win
HERE WE ARE again, getting ready to tuck away events, actions and existences in a cumulus of memory labeled a year.
And again, the flickering seconds collected in portions of minutes, hours and days don't seem to match the span of seasons. My mental picture of the Earth's turns around the sun is difficult to conform to the little numbers that tick away relentlessly in the right-hand corner of my computer screen.
Each beat distinguishes an ever-fleeting present from a quantity indefinite in future and firm only in passage. Once gone, it can't be retrieved.
I wonder if 100 years from now, perception of time will change. We look back at the slower-paced society of the mid-20th century as a mythical stage when speed didn't seem to be so much of a need. But I suspect people really were going about life as rapidly as technology allowed.
Since then, we've invented tools and designed operations for efficiency, fast, faster, fastest being the goal. Things have to be done swiftly so that more things can be done. Yet we have less time for leisure and for many, there's even this guilty notion that free hours unfilled with structure are wasted.
NOT THAT TIME doesn't matter. Since the storm blew away their neighborhoods and stability, thousands of people who were in Katrina's path have counted each day of the four months that have passed, awaiting housing, jobs and a return to routines.
For people with loved ones scheduled to come back soon from Iraq and Afghanistan, every elapsed minute blooms with hope for their safe homecoming.
Time assigns order to the way we live, with deadlines, schedules, calendars and clocks the ruling instruments. But it is something beyond our control.
I was watching a TV program in which a cute, over-poweringly gleeful cook preaches self-made fast food in a frenzied 30-minute whirl of pots, pans and giggles. The premise is that by employing "time-saving" methods, a nice meal can go from fridge to table in a half-hour.
If you wash your vegetables when you first bring them home from the grocery store, she says, you can get that broccoli-and-cheese casserole in front of hungry children quicker. Actually, you haven't saved time, just used it more wisely, swapped then for now.
THROUGH what's called multitasking, people attempt to telescope activities to fit into a given period. The morning commute becomes a 45-minute juggle of steering, accelerating and braking, shaving and grooming and calling clients to set up the day's appointments while the kids in the back seats pick at breakfast and finish their homework.
Time has become so short that microwave foods that can't be ready in less than 5 minutes don't move off the market shelves. We've forgotten that meat loaf used to take a hour to cook and, in contrast, a few rotations in the zapper isn't really all that long.
When a Google search extends past 30 seconds, we drum our fingers impatiently, overlooking the fact that a decade ago, getting information about anything required tedious paging through tons of reference materials for several hours at a library.
TIME-PRESSED people, however, should be glad to know that 2005 will run a second longer than the seven previous years. It seems that the Earth's rotation has slowed, possibly messing up the world's atomic clocks by which technology pulses.
To correct this, the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service has decided to add a "leap second" to the last minute of the year.
As with almost everything, there is controversy, with some time experts objecting to the adjustment and others saying the addition is necessary to keep astronomical systems, computer-run complexes and telecommunications in sync. Heated arguments are continuing among scientists across international lines.
I'm sure it's serious business, but I don't have time for it.
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Cynthia Oi has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org