Time. Too much or too little. There is never enough time to do the things we need to do and never enough time to do the things we want to do. “Time flies when you’re having fun.” Yet, when we have, or seemingly have, nothing to do there is too much time and time does not pass quickly enough. Perhaps this is where the saying, “Time on my hands,” came from?
Whether we know it or not, we are all prisoners of time. Everything we do is measured in small or large amounts of time. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, decades, centuries, or millennia. Everything is measured by these or varying increments of these.
It used to be that people measured their time by the sun. It was usually sun up and sun down. ALL the important stuff had to be done somewhere in between. Hunt, plant, clean, gather – as long as there was light, it was still possible. As the years passed away, the time from sun up to sun down varied, but always the work was done. Once darkness came, there was nothing left to do because you could not see it.
Eventually someone figured out that fire was possible and, under control, could be used to do more things after it was dark. That is when we really started to become prisoners. More light means more work, and it never ends.
Now a calendar, the timepiece for a year, tracks our daily schedule. “I’ll be there on Tuesday”, “Your visit last month”, “I’ll see you next year,” are all statements we hear often. Seasons are tracked, appointments scheduled, deadlines met or missed, a calendar is meant to manage our time on a grand and larger scale, but are we better off or do we just schedule ourselves to death?
Soon, a calendar was not enough. We filled our schedules with so much to do; we needed a better way to manage even more activities. The day, 24 hours longs, needed to be broken into smaller increments. Thus, a timepiece known as a clock came to be. Now the possibility of telling time no longer relied on the sun and shadows. Wandering into an open space or leaving a building was not necessary. Simply look at a face on the wall and the hands tell of time past or time left. Inevitably, entering a building took too much time and was inconvenient and so someone developed a way to carry time with you. Now time was carried on your wrist or in your pocket.
Because time was not portable, people began to break days down into smaller increments still. Hours were broken into quarters or halves and still further into individual minutes. Minutes into seconds. A face, hands, and 12 numbers dominate time, to this day. The form of clock may vary, but the function is the same. “I’ll be there in 15 minutes,” is transmitted from place to place. “You’re five minutes late,” is heard at meetings and appointments, or in you home. “You have three minutes to finish . . .,” whatever it is you are doing at the time. The smaller amount of the time something takes, the more things we can cram into our lives. Schedules are made to be kept.
We have become such prisoners of time that we now are impatient when things take too long. It used to take hours to prepare a meal, but now it can be done in minutes. The stove was a time saver from the campfire and, eventually, building a fire was not necessary at all. Electricity was a time saver, but not fast enough. Microwaves have saved even more time. Now we have foods like “instant” potatoes and pre-made meals. “Microwave on high for 1 – 3 minutes . . .,” the package reads. Yet, when our food is not ready when we want it, we complain. When we have to put it back into the microwave, we wail! “Minute Rice” takes three and “instant potatoes” require some assembly. Complaints galore are heard when “fast food” is not fast, yet the time it takes to assemble a meal of similar size and quantity at home would take much longer than the time you had to wait. A poached egg takes 30 seconds, yet we complain that it is too fast because we cannot get the rest of our breakfast ready before it is done. What gives?
Other inventions have not helped either. The automobile was a breakthrough because people could get from here to there more quickly. Ironically, when we all try to get from here to there more quickly, it ends up taking longer because we are stuck on the highway. As it turns out, walking may actually be faster at times. Of course, sitting in traffic is a result of someone trying to make better use of “wait time” in traffic. Cell phones we created to save time by not connecting us to something stationary, like a wall. The same with laptop computers and personal digital assistants (PDAs), they save time, but by saving time, we can do more work. If we can do more work now, we have more time to what we want to do later. Which is precisely the reason we end up sitting in traffic – the person ahead of us was trying to save time by unsuccessfully multi-tasking. As it turns out, driving and saving time by working causes others to wait.
At night when we cannot sleep, we stare at the clock. Thoughts such as, “If I fall asleep right now, I’ll get six hours of sleep,” race through our heads. We know we need to sleep, but because we are trying so intently to do it, we cannot. After what seems like an eternity of tossing and turning, we look at the clock again only to discover 15 minutes have passed and we are not asleep yet. Then the routine starts all over again, “If I fall asleep right now, I’ll get . . .”
Some of you might find you are such a prisoner of time that when you go to a movie you cannot really enjoy it. The problem is that you have to know what time it is. You know what the length of the movie, approximately, is and yet you find yourself looking at your watch or cell phone constantly. “How much time has passed?” you wonder. “If an hour has passed, there must be x amount of time left.” What does it matter? It does not; we are just prisoners to it.
Time controls everything we do. When to get up or go to bed, where to be and when, schedules, deadlines, – all have a control over us that is not easily altered. Time is our prison and there is no escape, only a beginning and an end.