Thursday, October 15, 2009

Narrow-Minded Reactions to the End of Time

My early morning runs usually start off very peacefully. I look at the trees, listen to the rhythmic thudding of my feet on the pavement and think about cheeseburgers or the smell of fresh laundry. But then I inevitably glance at my watch and then start trying to figure out how fast I'm running and what my time would be if I extrapolated it out over a longer distance. And I start to go crazy. My brain overheats and I have to sit down on the sidewalk and scratch numbers into the dirt with a stick, rocking back and forth with anxious frustration. And that's no way to start a day. I am just not mentally equipped to convert seconds into minutes into hours. No-one is.

The problem is not us; it's the system. The way we measure time is ridiculous. 60 seconds in a minute. 60 minutes in an hour. 24 hours in a day. 7 days in a week. 365 days in a year, except every fourth year when another day has to be tacked on to straighten things out. And even that doesn’t work, so every so often, on no schedule at all, another second has to be added (most recently at the very end of 2008). Then there are time zones and international date lines and daylight savings changes and some vigilante corner of Indiana that has rejected the daylight savings system adopted by the rest of the state. Insanity! I don't know how this system - the betamax of measurements - ever managed to survive throughout the years, but it's time for a change.

How hard could it be to declare that there shall be 10 seconds in a minute, 10 minutes in an hour, 10 hours in a day, 10 days in a week and 10 weeks in a year? A metric system of time.

When I try to make the case for this new system, I am invariably confronted with small-minded, bullshit, status quo-clinging resistance. Here is a sampling of the reactions I get and my responses to them.

Small-Minded Bullshit Reaction #1: The way we measure time is based on how long it takes for the earth to spin on its axis and revolve around the sun. It reflects the resultant shifts in seasons and tides and larger celestial forces to which human beings, like all animals, are subject.

Response: That all may have been true a while back, but since around the time of the light bulb, humans have been completely detached from nature. Months and seasons and whatever complicated stuff is going on out there in the universe have no bearing whatsoever on modern life. Only one in sixteen people in the first world can verify by first hand knowledge that there is even such thing as a sunrise. When moving between the florescent lights of home and the SUV and the florescent lights of the gym and the florescent lights of the office, what difference does it make what time or month or season it is outside? Getting in touch with the natural rhythms of the earth is like going on a diet. Possible in theory, but you are not going to do it. I know three people whose days are timed by the rising and setting of the sun and who are genuinely in touch with the cycles of the seasons. But they don't know what day of the week it is anyway and so shouldn’t be too worked up about revamping the global time keeping system.

Small-Minded Bullshit Reaction #2: My timeshare platinum elite membership wouldn't work out right anymore if the months got all jumbled up. I paid good money for the premium plus week in Bermuda.

Response: You never should have bought into a timeshare in the first place. When was the last time you actually used that? Have you ever really been able to trade your week for another vacation you truly wanted to take? Anyway, Marriott global could probably work out a new algorithm for converting 12 month time into metric time in about an hour. There will be a convenience charge and a few new blackout dates and transfer restrictions, but an upgrade will be available for a small monthly fee.

Small-Minded Bullshit Reaction #3: Length of days and months and seasons are important to farmers. They have to be in tune with the earth to create the food that sustains us all.

Response: Maybe, but there aren't really any farmers anymore. A few of them have lingered around, but that's just because of some random remnant government subsidies that make it worthwhile to produce food that people don't want to buy. And natural is overrated. Food made from natural things gets old and rotten. No match for the Twinkie and other such modern marvels that have 2000 year shelf lives. I'm sure you knew a guy in college whose basement-grown pot was a bajillion times more potent than anything mother nature ever created. Nothing natural about that, and I bet you weren't complaining too loudly. We should just stand aside and let ConAgra and Monsanto work their magic. Their robots and square, genetically engineered tomatoes don't care what time the sun comes up.

Small-Minded Bullshit Reaction #4: What about airplanes? Aren't they all coordinated by some kind of 24 hour time based clock?

Response: Probably, but how complicated could it be to recalibrate schedules for all of the flights in the world? Remember what a big deal everyone thought the Y2K revamp would be? Turned out to be nothing. If people are really that worried about having eight planes land on the same runway at the same time, we could just shut off all air travel for a few months while the airlines figured out how to adjust their radar screens and such. It might not be such a bad idea anyway to give all airline executives a time out. Maybe while they're working on the time issue they could also brainstorm about why all airlines have been more or less bankrupt since about 1980.

Small-Minded Bullshit Reaction #5: Would changing time mean I would have to replace all of my watches and clocks and my VCR and toaster oven and Mr. Coffee?

Response: That's right. But those things are all designed not to last more than a few years anyway. The new system would just be a little shot in the arm for planned obsolescence and, who knows, may be just what the economy needs right now.

In conclusion, there is no good reason why we should continue to use an antiquated system of measuring time based on planets and stars. The human race has progressed much too far. A bit of logistical planning will be needed, but that will all work itself out. In the end, all the running math I need to do will be easier, and my days will start off on a much more mellow note. And that will make it all worthwhile.


Michael said...

Way to bring timeshares into this! Didn't see THAT coming. Oh, and thank you for fixing the economy too.

Unknown said...

Finally, someone is speaking sense in this otherwise complicated realty where one can really focus on only one thing at a time because the fine print is is moving to a size smaller every year. I think we're at 8.5 the year...just wait. Janis, when you run, don't wear a watch for heavens sake and keep running until you get that runners high or until you meet up with your friend and his basement full of green magic herbs. Thanks once again for providing me with some food for thought. I think you will get the EU to jump on board before us Americans. Peace out.