This is now / 230
The concept of time as we know it today was only invented 6,000 years ago. Before that, the strict way in which a day, a month, a year is broken up into hours, minutes and seconds didn’t exist. People just lived their lives according to their own schedule, in much the same way that animals still do to this day. There were no deadlines, no due dates and no final notices. Lunch wasn’t eaten at 12 and an alarm didn’t pierce the silence every morning with its shrill, unwelcome voice. Today, however, time rules our lives, instills fear and sets unnatural boundaries. Without it, we would be lost.
For many, having hours upon hours of free time is a pure, and often elusive, luxury. The thought that there is nothing that you have to do, achieve, reply to, watch or even attend is a freedom rarely experienced in our hectic, over-scheduled lives. And there’s a reason why we crave these moments of timeless utopia. Time is unnatural.
The stress imposed on us as we try to live our lives to the ticking of a measured clock is a burden we were not meant to endure and as the world becomes smaller, our lives busier and the expectations put on our shoulders grow larger, the restrictive nature of a hand passing a hand is causing more hassle than the relief of an organised calendar is worth.
A quick chat with Dan Zakay, PhD, who specialises in the study of psychological time, throws light on the subject. “Living by the clock imposes time pressure, psychological pressure and anxiety,” he says. “When you always have to do something, your time schedule ends up dictating your life, and it was once believed that those who are time urgent are more likely to suffer from a heart attack.”
However, there are pockets of the earth where the rigidity of time is seen more as a suggestion rather than the scrupulous set of rules we in the West have come to regard it as. In Brazil, for example, saying you’ll meet someone at five could equate to any time between five, midnight or not at all, and rather than being perceived as rude – imagine if a friend never bothered turning up to a dinner date here in London… – it is normal, accepted and thus stress-free. Certain African communities have a similar mindset, believing that unnecessary stress is caused by stopping the flow of one activity to attend to the allotted time of another, and so they don’t… and the world keeps turning as normal.
The benefits of this lifestyle are clear and a study carried out by the Pan American Health Organization in 2011 found that the blood pressure of those in Brazil is considerably lower than those in the United States, where punctuality is the ritual of the masses. Moreover, an experiment carried out at the University of South Australia in 2010 found that men who were completely deprived of any time telling devices (smartphone, computer, alarm and microwave included), slept throughout the night, averaging a total of eight hours sleep each – a rare feat in our insomnia-ridden lives where knowing how long we have until morning becomes addictive and destructive.
Underpinning our apparent obsession with clocks, however, is the more prevalent issue of our inability to let go and live in the moment, choosing instead to plan every step and every corner of our lives. Rather than following the natural energy within us, we look to the external rigidity of a clock to determine our fate and live in a constant state of unrest. One group of people that doesn’t have this problem is the Pirahã tribe of the Amazon, whose unique and mostly unfathomable language doesn’t allow for time or numbers, meaning its members exist only in the here and now and not in either past or future tense. “By ignoring time,” Zakay muses, “one might live according to one’s own dreams and tempo, completely unrelated to the demands of society and reality.” Although unnatural to us, it’s the most natural thing our body could do.
In the long run, eschewing time altogether isn’t really a choice except on those few glorious days when you really don’t have anything to do and can let the clocks stop, ditch the watch and live as you want. That might mean sleeping in the middle of the day, but who cares? Without time you have the luxury to design your own rules.