Time Changes

December 10, 2008

I’m busy contemplating how to use the extra one second bestowed upon us at the moment 2008 ends.

The addition of a so-called leap second last happened in 2005, not that anyone noticed. But reading about this latest adjustment, I imagine life shifting into slow motion at 23:59:59. What dramas or epiphanies will burst forth in that precious extra second? Will someone fall in love in 2008 instead of 2009. Will a baby be born in December rather than January? The list of possibilities is, well, endless.

Of course the extra second isn’t really extra at all. Our lives aren’t being extended. (If only longevity was so simple!) The measurement of our existence is merely being shifted artificially to make up for a shortcoming in humankind’s calculation of time. Smithsonian magazine explains why the adjustment is needed.

The article also explains that the Earth’s rotation, our traditional way of measuring time’s passage, is slowing down. When only our bacteria ancestors inhabited the planet nine hundred million years ago, a day as we define it lasted eighteen hours. (That’s how winter feels in Portland.)

“Time as we know it changes,” the article declares in a sentence that slaps me with its eloquent but simple profoundness. Profound beyond what I suspect the writer intended.

Consider how we thought about time as kids — the endless periods of boredom that made days feel like we were trapped in infinity. And now, decades later, how time feels like water pouring through my fingers.