Most of us in Western civilization are living with the feeling that time is running out, or at least out of control. Weeks, months, years, and even decades seem to be growing shorter.
We can measure time but we cannot measure our perception of time. We can speculate, though. Everyone has figured out that each passing year represents a smaller fraction of our total lifetime; for a three-year-old, one year is a third of his or her time on Earth so far, and it seems like Christmas will never arrive. For a 65-year-old, a year is just over 1.5 percent of the total time spent on Earth—hardly anything at all. The seasons whip by.
Strangely, we attempt to measure and live by time without knowing how much time is left. Any living thing can die at any time; looking at a clock or calendar is like reading your gas gauge without an objective reference to the meaning of Full or Empty. We live like there’s a limit—a Saturn factor, of being trapped in time—but we don’t know the value of the limit. I think this puts us under a lot of pressure: in particular to move quickly, which as we know does not always “save time.”
But do these factors account for the acceleration phenomenon? They may, partially; yet there are many older people for whom time is interminable. I would surmise that, in such a state of mind, they are sufficiently isolated from the flow of society to have little perception of how fast events are coming, or to feel the need to adhere to much of a schedule. That does slow things down a bit, and it offers a clue: Those who engage in time are the ones experiencing the onslaught.
Most of us live as if we’re going through a vortex. The perception of time is subjective, but as nonordinary consciousness opens up, intersubjective events are becoming more commonplace: that is, perceptions that are not based on absolute truth but which many people share intuitively.
The perception of time is a mental phenomenon, and we are all hooked into it to some degree; we share a common mental field of time, which makes the shared experience stronger. That mental field may include the perception or experience of the acceleration of time. But what, exactly, is creating that?
There are many factors at work, and I have long suspected that our relationship to technology is closely associated with our perception of time.
Humans have tried to measure time for millennia, and looked to natural sources for their information—primarily the Sun and the Moon. But it was only in 1880, at the peak of the industrial revolution, that Greenwich Mean Time became the official reference of time used throughout England (which then expanded to Europe and the Americas). It had previously been used only to synchronize railroad schedules and by mariners to calculate longitude. Prior to this, calculation of time was a local affair.
In other words, even if you traveled a relatively short distance, you would have to reset your watch. There were no uniform time zones. Observing time passing along the face of a clock or watch, which happened centuries earlier, was a critical factor in our perception of time, which we began to internalize immediately. Eventually, this form of time entirely supplanted the use of the Sun, the seasons, and lunar cycles in our consciousness of time passing; as did calendars, which are a much older invention than clocks. An artificial model was overlaid on a natural experience.
We became synchronized into that phenomenon because we had to show up for school and work at a certain time, which was a new thing in human history. Prior to industrialization, people worked on their own time. However, I would propose that the adoption of mean time and the synchronization of all the clocks and watches in the world was a big step toward focusing the shared mental field of time perception.
Greenwich Mean Time gave way to Universal Coordinated Time, which is measured by atomic clocks. With the proliferation of the transistor, and as a result, the advent of computers and the Internet, synthetic time has become ubiquitous. Nearly every device now has a clock, and many of them are automatically synchronized.
We no longer have to look at our watches; globally synchronized time is announced constantly, and nearly everything we do on a computer is time stamped. The time is broadcast constantly, and I would propose that our minds may not be opaque to these broadcasts. In other words, our minds may be picking up the broadcast of the time just like our cell phones do. This is like standing in a total eclipse of natural time, into which is injected a constant flow of artificial time; the shadow of time.