I think about time a lot. I think about how its passing affects us, and about how it’s affected by our expectations.
I used to believe that the perception of time moving faster as you age was related to the amount of time you’ve already experienced. For example, if you’re only ten days old, then an hour probably seems pretty long in relation to the little bit of time you’ve experienced. If you’re 100 years old, a day might whiz by seemingly in a flash; at that point, you’ve experienced 36,500 of them already.
But more recently I’ve come across a different, more plausible theory: new experiences affect our perception of time.
When you’re a kid, you’re still encountering new things every day, and that means new information is being added to your stockpile of memories constantly. But as we age, we slip into patterns and rituals. We get up at the same time, eat the same breakfast, make the same commute, sit at the same desk. We are creatures of habit.
In Scientific American, James M. Broadway writes, “Our brain encodes new experiences, but not familiar ones, into memory, and our retrospective judgment of time is based on how many new memories we create over a certain period.”
I grew up in Virginia but started my career in Los Angeles, then New York City, then Portland. I guess I’ve always lived this way, searching for inspiration from completely new surroundings, although it took me a long time to be able to articulate why.
So in February of this year, I moved to Paris.
Many backward steps are made by standing still.
2020 felt like the year that would never end, probably for this reason. Nearly everything that happened was unprecedented, and we felt it all. Portland, in particular, felt like a powder keg for most of the year. There were protests, riots, police violence, and wildfire evacuation scares—all set against the backdrop of COVID isolation.
But then something happened, and it all got…fast. Monotony set in after a while, and days began to evaporate in the blink of an eye. It seemed like there were very few new memories to be made. So when an opportunity came, I decided that maybe it wasn’t that crazy after all.
An old job went away, a great new one came along, and before I knew it my family and I were scribbling with a sharpie on the side of moving boxes.
So I don’t know what comes next. That’s the point really. Literally everything I do here is new, difficult, and frankly a little scary. I love it.