Monday, December 03, 2007

1. TIME - for laymen

(c) By Harendra Alwis

Time both as a concept and a construct of the human mind, has gripped our lives with it's many tentacles that run through our minds. A majority of decisions that we make in the course of our daily business is at some level, influenced by time. The only way we seem to be able at least have an illusion of breaking free of the grip of time is to talk about ‘saving’ or ‘managing’ it.

Time saving devices and time management philosophies has taken the fore because we have come to think of ‘Time’ as a limited resource. Therefore as any other resource, we trade time in the open market in many ways and forms. We trade hours that add up to days and in days that add up to years, more often for monetary rewards rather than satisfaction or fulfilment, but overall it is a fair trade.

Time is indeed limited because in the grand scheme of things, a lifetime worth of time is all each of us really have. Whatever we gain or lose in life is a result of how well we trade our time for whatever we think it is worth. In the process, some of us loose time here and there on poor bargains or by spending more time than we can afford on things that don’t add any meaning or purpose to life, and with each second we perceive to have wasted, we worry over the scarcity of time and the acceleration of life.

I was mistaken at first to assume that the industrial revolution which started in the 18th century was responsible for sparking off this rapid acceleration of our lives by forcing us to synchronise ourselves with machines and thus get caught up in a never ending struggle to keep up with them. I was wrong, because the acceleration of life actually started a millennium before the industrial revolution, with the invention of the mechanical clock.

Before the invention of the clock; which is believed to have been in the later years of the 8th Century, civilization kept time with the daily cycle of night and day, the changing faces of the moon and the changing seasons. While the heavens kept time for us, our minds would have been free to gaze at the stars without having to feel guilty about ‘wasting our time’ ‘doing nothing’. But the clock changed our perception of the flow of time from an effortless and unhurried motion of the planets and changes that followed the four seasons, to a quickening, hurrying, intensifying feeling that came with each striking second on the clock-face.

It was only with the invention of the clock that we could accurately account for hours, minutes and seconds and could arrange a meeting at 1700 hours and expect all participants to be there ‘on time’ and also expect to be angry when anyone failed to be there on time. That was when life began to be synchronised with machines. The mechanisation of time is however, a creation of the human intellect and it has almost always been in conflict with our biology.

The human heartbeat is almost always out-of-step with the ticking seconds on the clock. The heart feels and responds to our feelings, beating faster when the body demands and slowing down when we are calm and rested. But the clock ticks on coldly with an even beat and we are reminded that time does not wait for anyone, because it does not know or care for anyone - as life does.

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