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Carl Wernicke: Holiday Time Warp

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  With the arrival of real winter this week I suddenly realized that this year seems to be zooming by at breakneck speed. That was underscored by what is quickly becoming a traditional sign of the arrival of Thanksgiving – the outbreak of Christmas decorations.

     In my day, we didn’t start decorating for Christmas until after Thanksgiving, but these days the passage of time seems more fluid and irrelevant than ever.

    Which reminds me of a fascinating recent NPR segment on the development of a  clock that  is so incredibly accurate that, as counterintuitive as it sounds, it could create real problems in telling what the actual time is. 

    According to the report, time is much more variable than most of us realize because of gravity. In fact, it seems that the higher you go above the surface of the earth, the faster time moves. The most practical impact for most of us seems to be that if you have a choice between an office on the first floor and one on the second floor, take the higher floor; your work day will fly by compared to the poor slobs below. What you do with those milliseconds is, of course, up to you, but my advice is, don’t waste them.

   Of course, if you have a dentist appointment approaching, move down to the first floor and you can put it off it as long as possible.

    I think another implication of this fluctuation in time is obvious, even if the report didn’t touch on it. Have you ever wondered why sometimes while walking you trip for no apparent reason? It seems clear now: your head is moving faster than your feet, and they can’t keep up.  This stuff is so exciting that it makes me wish I had paid more attention in physics class in junior high school. (Which by the way is another reflection of changing times: today they call it middle school.)

   But I do think all this reinforces my own pet theory that time does indeed move faster as you get older. At age 10, one year is 10 percent of your entire life, which is why it seems to take so long for Christmas to arrive, an extended agony for a 10-year-old. At 20, a year represents only 5 percent of your life; by 40, it’s just 2.5 percent and the passing years are beginning to take on something of a blur.

    This growing time lag raises a lot of questions. Perhaps the biggest is, does putting up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving seem crazier to young people, or to old people? I guess for those less than 10, it might now seem normal, while for those of us with blurry time vision it seems totally out of whack. To me, celebrating Christmas before Thanksgiving gives the concept of a time warp new meaning.

    There’s no question that life is speeding up; the unseemly rush by more and more stores to open earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving so their employees have to leave their families to wait on shoppers frantic to buy more stuff they probably don’t need speaks volumes about the accelerating pace of everything.

   I have plenty more theories on all this, but I’ve run out time.