It’s a commonly held idea that time seems to pass faster as we get older. That the seasons lasted forever when we were kids, and the years fly by now that we’re adults. That when we were young, each day felt like an eternity—because each day was a more noteworthy percentage of the entire time we’d been alive so far—and now that we’re older, a whole month can pass by in a snap—because what’s one more month when you’ve already been alive for hundreds of them?
I think this idea is wrong.
(Sorry kids, this post doesn’t apply to you. You aren’t allowed to read it I guess; it’s X-rated now. The X stands for “existential.”)
Days still feel like they last forever to me, when I pay attention to them. When I’m bored and trying to find little ways to fill the time. When I’m acutely aware of how many hours are still left in the day. When I’m not actively engrossed in some movie or book or video game that I know will take up the rest of my evening.
Time really slows to a crawl when you’re measuring it tick by tick, rather than looking at it in hindsight.
And yet… Weeks and months do go by in a flash. As soon as the day is done, its details get sanded off and it gets renamed to “yesterday,” and then to nothing at all, in the world’s greediest compression algorithm. Especially for adults, who usually go through the same routine day after day, calling it a job and celebrating its stability. Why waste valuable mental real estate remembering the nuances of last Tuesday, when it was 95% the same as any other day of the week in the last few years?
And so, with the days blending into a single archetypal proto-day in your memory, that leaves a memory gap where you would expect to find months/years worth of content. Thus, the perception that time passes faster.
It’s an interesting paradox, I think. Months and years go by in an instant, but individual days last forever. The forest is just a blur, but each individual tree is full of detail.
Time doesn’t pass faster as we get older. Adults have just forgotten how to see the trees inside the forest.
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