Can years really fly by faster each time?

by Freddy GdiP

cameraheadAs with every single post here, this is a personal theory and as such it might be completely bollocks or it might actually have something to it. I personally think this might be –at least partially- truth but then again, I might be wrong.

Remember when, as a kid, holidays seemed to last forever? When a year was an almost unthinkably huge amount of time? Time seems to go by faster since those days, doesn’t it? Is it because of the ubiquitous fastening pace of modern life? Is it the Zeitgeist of our time? Where does that sensation of years flying by come from? Do years really fly by faster each time? Is that even remotely possible?

Two factors account for this sensation: One of perception and one of a physical nature.

I’ll start with the perception factor:

When you are a little kid, say, a seven year old kid, one year is a huge amount of time because your entire existence is comprised into just seven of those time units. And you probably don’t remember much of the first three either so you are left with just four lousy years as a time frame to compare the rest of the time units out there to. People tend to compare everything to themselves. Either consciously or unconsciously, they compare everything to themselves and the measures that are familiar to them. Holidays where amazingly long back then.

When you have lived a number of years you realize twelve months is not that long. Or at least not as long as you thought it was when you were seven. And each time one year is added to your age, that time unit ends up representing a smaller percentage of your life. As with everything, the more you have, the less it means. Each year seems less than the previous one because of that same reason: It represents a smaller chunk of your life each time one is added. Same happens with months, days, etc. You don’t think much of one year when you have already lived quite a few and neither does your subconscious.

Now the physical factor:

Your metabolic rate slows down as you get older. The metabolic rate and the heart determine how fast your internal “engines” work. This includes your brain and the way it processes everything.

A film camera is a perfect analogy here: When you reduce the number of frames per second you have a film where things seem to move faster. When your brain slows down over the years, the process is similar to the film camera. Everything seems to move faster each time because you don’t process the received information as fast as you used to. The deceleration of the metabolic rate slows down your brain which in turn slows down its perception, thus making it seem as if time is progressively speeding up.

People get used to faster things really, well, fast. The evolution of home computers is a perfect representation of how seamlessly we adapt to faster systems without almost noticing it. I got my first computer in 1992. It was a heavy, limited and slow piece of equipment but to me it was just great. The word processor really speeded things up –once I got the hang of it- from the typewriter, and many other functions that where performed through other devices are now almost unthinkable without the aid of a computer. The next model I got was a huge step forward both in functions and in speed. The difference was mind blowing at first but I quickly got used to it and deemed it normal. Same happened with the next upgrade.

Remember what Internet connection was like 15 years ago? I had a 56 kbps telephone modem which used to take forever to download a single image. And it was ok. Actually, it was nothing short of amazing and I didn’t think it was slow; it was the way it was supposed to be. Then I got cable modem and the difference was huge. The few times I had to go back to use a telephone modem I would get very impatient and couldn’t figure how I was able to stand such a slow system in the past. Same process happened with the next upgrade. And the next. My guess is, this same thing happens to you too, doesn’t it? We get used to higher speeds so fast that we almost don’t even notice it even if it happens in big steps, like the ones we experience when we upgrade our Internet connections.

Because of its nature it is impossible for us to see this deceleration process in real time. Actually, it would be really scary if we could see or even perceive ourselves slowing down and the whole world speeding up. It would feel like dying because that’s exactly what this process is all about. Lucky for us, we only think of it as some sort of distant sensation but quite probably, the next time you hear someone say how fast the last year went by, you won’t deem it as just a harmless observation and you’ll maybe even get a small shiver. Sorry about that.

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