Category Archives: Time

The accelerating acceleration of time…

So Rip Van Winkle took a nap? Big deal…

Rip Van Winkle fell asleep for 20 years? Big deal. I take a lot of naps myself, since my stroke.

Also, I’m older than Rip was when he woke up, near as I can figure. And this gives a very, very different conception of what constitutes a “long time.” This was on display in a response I gave to a Doug Ross comment earlier this week. But let’s not talk about that. The exchange was about one of the least interesting subjects in the known universe — interest rates. (He was impressed by a 21-year high. I was not.)

And I want to talk about time.

You may think this a subject that’s been done to death, too, and you’d be right, up to a point. I mean, we all know that time speeds up as we get older. I knew full well when I was 40 that a year went by a LOT faster than it did when I was, say, 10. You’ve all experienced it, even you youngsters.

But after that, time accelerates at an accelerating pace. And now that I’m a very few weeks away from turning 70, I can tell you that I’m experiencing something like Ludicrous Speed, and I’m in a new dimension, or something.

And the only way I can measure the change is to compare it to the ways I perceived time in the past — which seem, well, ludicrous to me now. Examples:

  1. I’m jealous of my children and grandchildren because they learned about the Second World War, the event that loomed over my childhood, in history class. I had to read up on it myself. I was born eight years after 1945, and when I was a kid, I figured that had been plenty of time to document it fully in the textbooks. And it DID appear, as a sort of epilogue, in some of my books. But my teachers never got that far by the end of the term. I was an adult before I understood that it was so recent that it was hard for adults to wrap their heads around the idea that it was history. They saw it as current events. How could we not know all about it? Anyway, I felt really left out, because my world was full of indications that this monumental thing had happened just before I was born, and my elders knew all about it, but they weren’t sharing. I spent a lot of time, whenever I was in the school library, looking at those LIFE magazine coffee-table books full of pictures from that period. By high school, I was devouring adult novels set in the period, and then got into the actual history books
  2. In my senior year of high school, I wrote a research paper for my civics class (a course with one of those faddish names like “Problems in American Democracy”) about Robert F. Kennedy — not the one who’s running quixotically for president now, but his Dad, who was not crazy, and was a contender if not the favorite back in ’68. Of course, I didn’t write the paper until the night before it was due — an all-nighter, since I had to type it after writing it longhand (I lacked skills I later took for granted). But I had been reading up on him for some time — at least one book covering his whole life, and a bunch of magazine articles. I really, truly had a strong sense that I was writing about a figure from way back in history; I remember this clearly. I had known next to nothing about him when he was alive, so I was learning about the distant past. But he had been assassinated only three years before! Had he survived, and won the 1968 election, he would still have been in his first term when I was writing it! It was like — the 2020 election, looked back upon now.
  3. That one reminds of an incident illustrating how clueless I still was well into my 30s. When I was the news editor of The Wichita Eagle-Beacon, from 1985-87, I was asked to help with the screening of a candidate for assistant metro editor. Before meeting her, I read through her clips from her reporting days, and was deeply impressed by one of her stories: It was about the spontaneous speech RFK gave to a crowd in Indianapolis upon learning of the assassination of Martin Luther King. It was a profoundly great speech, and if you’ve never heard it, go listen. This was two months before he himself was killed. It was an amazing story, and she did a good job with it. But what I remember thinking was, She was there? She was an actual working journalist way back in history like that? I wasn’t used to dealing with anyone that old. And when I met her, she actually had gray hair! (Mind you, it was only as far back as… well, this blog is older than that.) But ancient as she was, we hired her, and I really liked her. Old people can be interesting.
  4. Just one more, and this is the one that really gets my head spinning. As I said, as a kid, WWII was history, even though by an adult perspective, it had just happened. The 1930s — the days of Prohibition and Al Capone and the Great Depression — that was way back when my parents were little kids, and they were antediluvian, right? In the Roaring ’20s, my mom hadn’t even been born. The First World War? I didn’t know anybody who had served in that, although I heard legends about an uncle who had been gassed, and always had poor health, and died long before I came along. To me, it was like hearing about Henry V at Agincourt.

Let’s break down that last bullet, from an adult perspective. Let’s compare perceptions of time in 1963 — the year I turned 10 — to today:

  • In 1963, the end of the war was no more distant than 2005 is now. You know, the year I started this blog. Which just happened, right?
  • Al Capone had gone to prison for tax evasion in 1932. That was the same distance back as 1992. According to Wikipedia, some of the top movies of that year were “Lethal Weapon 3” (not 1 or 2), “A Few Good Men” (yay, Aaron Sorkin), “Sister Act,” and “Wayne’s World.” If you think those are old films, you and I might have trouble communicating.
  • This month in 1927, President Coolidge proposed federal funding for the planned sculptures on Mount Rushmore. And my Dad wasn’t born yet. That same distance back from now, I became the governmental affairs editor of The State, after having been a supervising editor at other newspapers for seven years.
  • Now it really gets creepy. In 1963, the start of the Great War, the War to End All Wars — which would lead to the ends of the Russian, Hapsburg and Ottoman empires — was 49 years back. But I have realized that this wasn’t the same as Agincourt. My wife and I celebrated our 49th anniversary on Friday.

Never mind stuff I can still remember. These books I’ve often mentioned recently expanding the notion of “history” to way before the dawn of writing have expanded my concept of time to what most Americans who know who the Kardashians would consider… ludicrous.

I’m reminded of a conversation I overheard on the USC campus back when I worked in an office, and took long daily walks around the campus and downtown area. These two boys were walking behind me, and one of them was bitching about having to take a course in stupid history — as if anybody cared about that.

His friend, however, protested that learning history was important to understanding our world, and he got the first kid to agree, reluctantly. I almost applauded, but in keeping with my lifelong habit of hanging back and observing, I didn’t (anyway, they may have found that a bit… condescending).

But then I heard the first kid say, “Yeah, OK. But this was, like, 500 years back! Who needs to know about that?”

The friend felt compelled to walk back his position: “Well, maybe not 500 years! Let’s not be ridiculous…”

I just kept walking.

Five hundred years ago, what we call the Modern Era had already begun. The Roman Empire, which kinda got Western civilization all going and organized, had collapsed more than a thousand years earlier.

As old as I may look, boys, I don’t personally remember those things. But come on…

Ferdinand and Isabella? That was, like, 500 years ago! Who cares?

Good thing we’ve got these smartphones, huh?

OK, technically this image is from my PC, not my phone, but you get the idea…

That’s that I said to my wife this morning: Good thing we’ve got these smartphones! Or pretty much any device with Google. (Or Microsoft’s Sydney, if you’re the adventurous type.)

This morning, after my shower (sure, I work from home now, but occasionally I do still take a shower), I was drying off and for the life of me, could not remember how many guitar pickers there were in Nashville. I was thinking it was 1,552, but I kept running it through my head, and I wasn’t at all sure about it.

Fortunately, my iPhone was right there on the cabinet where we keep the towels, so I didn’t have to wait until getting dressed and leaving the room to get my answer. Before I started shaving, I Googled it:

Nashville cats, play clean as country water
Nashville cats, play wild as mountain dew
Nashville cats, been playin’ since they’s babies
Nashville cats, get work before they’re two

Well, there’s thirteen hundred and fifty two
Guitar pickers in Nashville
And they can pick more notes than the number of ants
On a Tennessee ant hill…

And so forth. So I was like 200 git-tar pickers off. No telling what would have happened if I couldn’t have found out right away. My head might have exploded or something.

I don’t know what we did before having these phones, and Google. Well, I sort of know. I had a dictionary on my desk at the paper. I tried to avoid looking at it, and fortunately I’m good at spelling so I seldom had to. But occasionally I would think, “Is that really the word I want in this context?” and open it.

Well, that would be it for awhile. I’d look up that word, and the definition would contain another word that I just had to look up or bust. And something about that word would remind me of another one I hadn’t run into in awhile, and this suggested fond memories, and couldn’t resist looking that one up too for old times’ sake, and before you knew it, I’d have been darting here and there in that volume for 15 or 20 minutes, with deadline bearing down on me.

Of course, today we have Google and HTML links, which are among the most wonderful inventions in human history, and the problems I had back in the day with a mere dead-tree dictionary look pretty pitiful. Or at least quaint.

But it’s fun. Anyway, after looking up the Lovin’ Spoonful, I thought about taking a crack at Wordle, but resisted the temptation and went ahead and shaved. Discipline, baby, discipline.

Managing one’s time takes more willpower than our fathers e’er dreamed of…

On the ever-accelerating compression of time

The old and the young just don’t see time the same way.

Tonight, as I drove home from an Epiphany mass, my wife was checking her email on her phone, and found a missive from Experian about a supposed account.

Since she does not have an account with Experian, she found this mysterious, and she mentioned it to me.

“Don’t delete it,” I said. I said it quickly, because she’s not like me. She wouldn’t let 12,000 emails pile up. She dispatches them with, well, dispatch…

She wanted to know why not? Surely I didn’t have an account for checking my credit score or anything…

Well, no. I have never wondered what my “credit score” was. I only have the vaguest notion what a credit score is, or why anyone would want to know about such a thing. I think it has something to do with one’s ability to borrow money, and I find it hard to imagine wanting to do that — or do anything else that involves thinking about money. As I often mention.

But that name, “Experian,” rang a bell. I poked around in my memory as I drove, and decided it had something do to with something I had done for ADCO. I couldn’t remember what that something was, or whether it meant I was still in some way entangled with this Experian outfit. So I wanted to get home and check my ADCO email before she deleted that.

I explained that it was awhile back — maybe as much as a year. And that’s why I couldn’t remember details. I could only say it had something to do with something else that company does, something unrelated to credit scores.

So I got home, checked my old email — if it had to do with work, I would have filed them away. And I had. I found that I had even created a folder called “Experian” in that gmail account, and it had six emails stored in it. Apparently, I had briefly created an account with the company for them to do email verification on a list of people a client wanted to send something to. Not a task I’d normally perform. In fact, I had only ended up being the person to do it this once.

So, pretty good memory, right? I had sorta kinda remembered having done something with this company on one brief occasion. I can’t remember who the client was or what the eblast was about, but I remembered something. That’s good, right?

Please affirm me here. Because my point in writing this is to tell you that all those six emails were sent in 2017. In May and June of that year. Almost six years ago. And I had thought it was maybe as much as a year back.

This happens to me all the freaking time now. Usually, I’m being surprised when I hear some younger person talking about something that happened a long, long time ago. And I’ll think, “No, no, that just happened — it was right around the time of the 9/11 attacks.”

I’ll read some retrospective in a newspaper about something that happened 30 years ago, or 20 years ago, or even more absurdly, 10 years ago, and I’ll wonder why the writer is going on about this thing that just happened as though it were history, ancient history, something that many readers might not even be able to remember.

I hear younger people reminiscing about, say, the 2012 election in tones I might use in talking about, I don’t know, the Beatles. Or the Cuban Missile Crisis.

It’s one of the oddest things about aging, this powerful distortion of temporal perspective. Expect me to write more about it. You know how we old people are…

‘Alistair1918:’ A nice little film you probably haven’t heard of


Just a quick word about a neat little film you may not have heard about, and might enjoy.

It’s called “Alistair1918.”

I ran across it on Amazon Prime, where you can see it for free if you’re a subscriber. It wasn’t among the films and TV shows the service promotes on its main page. You know how if you call up a film, depending on your interface, you get a list of similar movies across the bottom of the screen — and then if you click on one of those, you get a list of things related to that? After you do that two or three times, you get to some interesting, and unexpected, stuff. Well, I was a click or two into one of those searches for arcana, looking for something to watch while working out, and ran across this.

But the blurb doesn’t really tell you what it’s like. It says, “A World War One soldier accidentally time travels to present day Los Angeles. Filthy, penniless, with no way to prove his identity, he struggles to find a way back to his wife in 1918.”

Actually, all of that has already happened when you meet Alistair, the British soldier. He’s been in the present day for about a month, and he’s already come to grips with the fact that it’s the 21st century and that he’s stuck here. He’s been living in Griffith Park, staying alive by trapping squirrels.

So there are no battle scenes, or flash-bang depictions of what time travel might be like, or anything. No “Back to the Future” action involving DeLoreans. In fact, it’s basically like what you’d see on an amateur documentary, because that’s what it’s supposed to be. Near as I can recall, you see nothing that’s not part of the “documentary” footage. It’s about as vérité as cinéma gets.

When the film started, I thought it was a promo for something else, one of those Prime routinely gives you at the start of a video, and only when the “promo” dragged out into extended scenes did I realize the show had started.

It starts with this nervous young woman named “Poppy” trying on different outfits before doing interviews on camera. Gradually, you infer that she’s a graduate student shooting a documentary for her master’s, with help from friends, about homelessness in Los Angeles. She starts by asking people on a city street about the homeless. After a couple of people mention all the homeless in Griffith Park, the crew goes there. They head off the beaten path and starting looking in a wooded area, and the first homeless guy they meet is the one you see below — Alistair.

When they interview him, he very matter-of-factly explains his situation. As I’ve said, he’s had time to adjust. So there’s none of the “Where the hell am I, and what’s happened to me?” drama you see in most time-travel films. He’s even unimpressed with the technology. Alistair dismisses such tropes as irrelevant to his situation or his goal — which is to get back to his wife in 1918. Later in the film, when one of Poppy’s friends sort of condescendingly asks him whether he’s amazed at the old flip phone Poppy has given him, he says, with a “what kind of rube do you think I am?” tone, “We have telephones.” When the guy says, yeah, but this has no wires, Alistair says, “We have radio, also.”

Alistair’s a pretty smart guy who defies the usual fish-out-of-water cliches. You know he’s a pretty smart guy because when they ask him what he did before the war, he says he wrote for a newspaper back in England (ahem!). He’s a guy who reads, and writes, and figures things out. In fact, after a “scientist” he meets fails to get him back home through a hare-brained stunt, he reads every book in the library that deals with wormholes in a quest to figure out how she got it wrong. (The film’s title is Alistair’s email address, which Poppy creates for him so he can communicate with the scientist.)

The film was written by Guy Birtwhistle, the actor who portrays Alistair. Told you he was a smart guy.

Anyway, I think you’ll enjoy this. You should check it out…

in Griffith Park

Change has slowed down so much in the meat world

What people allegedly looked like in 1994. How are they different, except that they're not looking at their phones?

What people allegedly looked like in 1994. How are they different, except that they’re not looking at their phones?

I was looking at the pictures with my post about “Hoosiers,” and something hit me.

Do you realize that the 1980s — when the movie came out — are now as far in the past as the 1950s were when it was released?

That blows my mind. (Although not as much as when I reflect that the ’70s are now further back than the First World War was when I was born!) The early ’50s were ancient history, a different universe, a time hard to place yourself in, when the film was made. But the ’80s don’t seem long ago at all.

Yeah, some of that is age, and you younger folks won’t get it. The time in which the film was set was before I was born, but in the ’80s I was an adult and, by the end of the decade, the father of five kids.

But there’s more to it than that. It goes to my running theme about how much less dynamic our culture is today than it was within living memory.

In the world in which we Boomers grew up, popular culture — fashions, music, film, slang, the whole look and feel of living in America — changed markedly from year to year.

Yeah, the ’80s look different from now, so there’s a definite feeling of that decade being “past” — just not distant past. And I think that’s because if you look at pictures from the ’90s or the ’00s, things look pretty much the way they do now — except that now everybody’s walking around looking down at their phones.

Clothes, hair, cars may be slightly different from the early ’90s — but not as different as they tended to be from year to year in the ’60s.

It’s weird, to me, the way change has slowed down in the meat world, even as it has changed rapidly online. It’s like all of our dynamism, energy and creativity have poured into the virtual, abandoning the real…

Carnaby Street in London in the '60s, when change was what was happening.

Carnaby Street in London in the ’60s, when change was what was happening.