Do you see yourself as the master of your life? Do you believe that you control your every move and thought? Think again. Although you might not realize it, you are not the sole dictator of your own destiny. You follow another’s bidding — a universally accepted yet rarely acknowledged lord whose domain no one can escape.
What is this extraordinary being that rules both the homeless man and the U.S. president with an equally heavy hand? What could possibly control every human’s behavior without our even realizing it? The answer is time — a natural phenomenon meant to serve mankind but has eventually become our own master.
Just close your eyes and imagine an ordinary college day. An obnoxious beeping jars your sleep. The clock blinks 7:15 a.m., and you sigh as you endure another rude awakening from your alarm. After groggily stumbling to your shower, wolfing down a meager breakfast — if any — and rushing out the door, you launch into your scheduled day at the University.
Throughout the afternoon, you shuttle between your classes, your work and your home, constantly watching the clock to stay on time. At the end of the day, time might allow you a precious hour or two of relaxation while still leaving enough space for a less-than-decent five-hour night of rest.
Whether you are a freshman, a grad student or a professor, time is your unforgiving taskmaster who leaves no room for error. We live our lives one deadline at a time, and we arrange our college schedules around the next paper to write, the next lecture to give or the next meeting to attend.
We squeeze in time for ourselves, our intimate relationships and our personal endeavors in the hours left empty, and even then, our time is measured. Every waking and sleeping moment, whether spent at work or at play, lies in time’s inescapable realm.
Time is such a simple and obvious concept impacting our daily lives, yet paradoxically, few of us rarely stop to ponder it. Humanity is so immersed in time we no longer detect its presence. We resemble a deep-sea fish that never quite discovers the existence of salt water. We take time completely for granted, never questioning it, yet forever answering to it.
What is time? The complete definition for “time” in Webster’s New World Dictionary is about 8 1/2 inches long, covers 29 meanings — not including its different idiomatic expressions — and categorizes it as a noun, verb, interjection and adjective. Time, like the geometric concepts of point, line or plane, is an obviously difficult or even impossible term to completely define.
Yet we have a very intuitive sense of rhythm and tempo. Time’s effects upon our bodies, although constantly battled, are always evident. We divide our lives into the past, present and future, and we measure almost every personal accomplishment with the ruler of time: the length of a relationship, the span of a career, the years spent in college.
To somehow quantify this abstract concept, the Egyptians divided the day and night into 12 equal hours. One thousand years later, the Babylonians developed the tradition of subdividing things into 60 parts, thus contributing to our modern clocks. The Romans further specified a year as 365 1/4 days, and in the Middle Ages, Pope Gregory XIII created the Gregorian calendar that is still in use today.
Moon phases, seasons and sundials have historically been used to keep track of time, and today, we have an extremely precise measurement of time — one second is defined as 9,192,631,770 vibrations of the cesium-133 atom. The world of international law has even been involved in configuring time. In 1884, the International Meridian Treaty declared Greenwich as home to the Prime Meridian, with every new day officially beginning in the city’s Royal Observatory.
The beginning of time occupies philosophers, physicists and cosmologists. Plato reasoned that the planets were created in order to mark the passage of time. Supposedly time and the heavens came into being at the same moment, and if they were ever to be destroyed, they would simultaneously be dissolved. Some of today’s thinkers have modernized Plato’s view by claiming the Big Bang was the creation of time itself, a singular point when there was no “before.” Einstein, who postulated that time is relative to velocity and acceleration, joked that “the only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”
On a more abstract level, a somewhat-flawed theory states that the present does not exist. Consider this classic time problem. When you ask what time it is and you eventually receive the answer, that specific point in time has already passed. As soon as you realize the present is here, it now lies in the past, and the future arrives before you know it. Therefore, the present does not exist.
But with all these realistic, philosophical and historical perspectives on time, what does it truly mean to us in our daily lives? Our world has harnessed itself to time. We are obsessed with this abstract concept, and since the advent of the Technology Age, society strives to speed time up. Next-day delivery, fast-food restaurants, high-speed Internet connections — all of these satisfy our need to save time. We are relentlessly driven to accomplish more in a shorter time period.
Theoretically, the time we save translates into more free time and thus more relaxed lifestyles. But despite our time-conserving society and the technological devices that aid us in all we do, our lifestyles are no more relaxed than before. If anything, our rapid pace increases our impatience, intolerance and stress.
We hold ourselves accountable for every minute spent and are plagued with guilt if time slips through our grasp. We compete in a vicious race against time, perpetually trying to beat the clock, yet unaware that time is the inevitable winner.
With every deadline met, another looms in the near future. The tighter our schedules become, the more emphasis we place on punctuality and thus the more enslaved we become to the clock. Dependability and responsibility should obviously not be ignored, but neither are they to be deemed the be-all and end-all. Everything must be taken in perspective, and unfortunately, our perspective on time has become rather skewed.
We are not machines that function efficiently and flawlessly, nor should we treat ourselves as such. We are human beings, and our most basic values of love, sympathy, friendship or happiness are in no way indebted to the passage of time.
Although time holds no obligation to us, we religiously oblige ourselves to time, often at the expense of our personal lives and principles. We sacrifice ourselves, our friends and our lovers for the sake of time, that unsympathetic entity that waits for no man or woman.
Consider how time commands your own life and interferes with your personal relationships. Take more control of your priorities, and don’t blindly follow the dictates of time by losing your human qualities. Relax enough to chat with a friend for those extra five minutes. Spend time to pamper your body and your mind. Remember, you must use time, or time will use you.
Samantha Pace’s column appears on alternate Mondays. She welcomes comments at [email protected]