From 14 Hours in the Future: Lost in the 4th Dimension

Time, time, time.

Joel Haddock has become unstuck in time.


Over the past few months, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in my daily life. I think it’s been going on since I was younger, but I’ve begun to notice it more acutely as of late due to changing circumstances in my life.

The problem is, I really have no idea what time it actually is anymore.

“Look at a clock, jackass,” is the cry I’m sure you loyal readers are raising. However, clocks are the main part of the problem. At this very moment (which moment it is, exactly, I couldn’t tell you), there are three clocks around me in my room. Each of them tells me a different time.

My alarm clock is running fast, and seems to gain a minute every few days. My computer clock is slow, and seems to lose a minute every few days. The clock on my stereo just flashes “10:56” at me because no matter how often I set it, it will eventually forget what it’s supposed to be doing.

If I move into other parts of the house, things just get worse: VCR clocks crawling along at their own pace, microwave clocks that could care less about what time it is, and even less about whether my food is well-cooked.

Getting in the car to go to work is no help; my car clock exists on some sort of independent time frame altogether. That, though, is mostly my fault. Whenever Daylight Savings rolls around, I never bother to correct it. My theory is — and this has worked pretty well so far — is that eventually one of my passengers will take the initiative and do it for me.

And then there is work, which I think is the real reason I’ve come to notice these chronological anomalies so much. When I get to work, I have to check in on that icon that binds society and time, the time clock.

It’s just a little gray box, but it holds an awful lot of power. I have never had to work at a job with a time clock until this one. My previous employers used old-fashioned human power to keep track of the time. The nice thing about people is that we’re willing to estimate. If you are supposed to be at work at 9:30, and you get there “around” 9:30, a person will give you the benefit of the doubt.

The metal-souled demon of the time clock gives you no such leeway, however. If you are two minutes late, it will tell you so in unalterable red ink. It measures hours in terms of decimal places, and that’s just unnatural.

Time, as I see it, is very imprecise by its nature. Scientists have long argued about the whole concept of what time is, and I don’t think they’ll be settling those arguments anytime soon. Does time go forward only, or does it go backwards sometimes? We know it’s relative — just ask anyone going at the speed of light. Is there such a thing as a single point in time, or is it all just a concept our simple human minds have tried to impose on the universe?

The fact is we have to deal with the concept of time that we’ve created for ourselves. Unfortunately, the whole mess got awful complicated somewhere along the line. Time zones were a pretty good idea to start with, except that once people could communicate instantaneously across the globe, things got a little stickier. Called Tokyo at three in the afternoon? Whoops, looks like it’s one in the morning for them.

And then some crazy farmers decided to tack on Daylight Savings Time, except not everywhere, and only sometimes for some people. And calendars are great, too, except when you try to figure out which one started when and who uses which. If you thought that sentence was confusing, then you’re starting to feel like you should when contemplating time.

I personally have gained an hour, thanks to the wonder of international travel. Turns out you go a little faster coming back from Japan then getting there, and the bonus time comes rolling in. I think by now I have probably wasted my extra hour on some other time-related shenanigans, but I can’t be sure.

Can you imagine the mess when humans start to live on other planets? I don’t even want to think about the sheer chaos that will ensue in trying to come up with a universal time system. And heaven help us if we’re only traveling at light speed, because people are going to be arriving before they left and missing entire centuries along the way. I mean, seriously: people still argue about when we enter a new millennium. If you can’t nail down a thousand-year chunk of time, you’re not going to have much luck with anything on a larger scale.

People are bad at managing time in every sense of the word. Individual people spend too much time working, or too much time playing, or just lose track of time altogether. As a society, we try to impose set periods of time that people should be doing things in. Who was it that decided that 9 to 5 was the best time to conduct business? Why not 11 to 7, or 6 to 2? It all seems arbitrary.

And face it — like I said earlier, no one really knows what time it is. Sure, somewhere in a vault there’s an atom slowly decaying, supposedly tracking time, but now they say that even that might be slowing down. Or speeding up. Or something.

My official report on time reads as follows: “Time is a bizarre concept.” I don’t think I’m going to win any Nobel Prizes with it, but it’s true. And next time someone complains that you’re late for a meeting, just repeat to them everything I just told you. You will then be fired. But, on the up side, you’ll have a lot more free time.

Article © 2002 by Joel Haddock