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  • Jan Flynn

I Know What I Want

Santa, if you’re listening . . .

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I want — make that need — an elastic clock

Not a watch with a stretchy wristband. Not even a smartwatch, because I’ve already got one that tells me the time — the objective time, that is — anywhere in the world. It also tells me what the weather will be ten days from now in Pocatello or Paris or Poughkeepsie, how many steps I’ve taken today compared to a year ago on this date, how much I’ve lost in the stock market this month, and when it’s time to get off my @$$ and stand up for sixty seconds.

I don’t need any of that. What I need is a clock that tracks elastic time. One that stretches and contracts the way time does.

You know what I’m talking about, right?

No matter how much we insist on imposing on it objective measures like minutes and hours, time is not bound by our human illusions. I suspect that time merely laughs at our attempts to manage it, if it even bothers to notice.

After all, we’re only one species. We can make some guesses as to how our dogs register the passage of time (humans walk out the door = a trackless abyss: humans come home = glorious exaltation, matched only by every other time they’ve returned). But what about goldfish and ferrets and wombats? According to human measures, an octopus lives for only about two years. But for all we know, to an octopus those two years seem like, well, a lifetime.

And that’s just on Earth. What is time like on an asteroid, or a comet, or to a sentient being whom we wouldn’t even recognize as a life form going about its day or nanosecond or epoch, somewhere out there among all those galaxies?

I return to my point. Because, time

The whole point of a watch or a clock is to help us contend with the most uncontrollable and unforgiving aspect of our existence. But the older I get the more I register how unsatisfactory the standard methods of measuring time are.

If I’ve been staring at a PowerPoint during a webinar that I am sure has taken a couple of centuries to get to the second slide, it’s no help when the clock tries to tell me only ten minutes have elapsed. Nor, when I get absorbed for a little while in something deeply meaningful, like writing a novel or online shoe shopping, do I appreciate learning that four of my precious hours have somehow evaporated.

That does nothing to shore up my happy illusion of control. Which is really all I want from a timepiece.

An elastic clock would employ measures far more nuanced than seconds, minutes, and hours. It would mark time the way I perceive it. For instance, a surprisingly short interval might be expressed as From Here to the Closest Bathroom, or Just One Bite. A more leisurely interlude could be labeled Just Running a Few Errands, while an excruciatingly long stretch — such as that endless webinar — could be measured as Seventh Grade.

Such a system would do much more than our current one to reflect the reality of perceived time, which is what most of us care about. It’s ridiculous to assert that fifteen minutes spent playing with one’s grandchildren takes as long as fifteen minutes stuck in traffic.

An elastic clock should come with a built-in timer

It would be best if this feature was predictive, which shouldn’t be too tall an order for some of our tech wizards, should it? Imagine the reduction in stress if you could set your time for Childhood Summer Afternoon. Or the reverse: should you require a sense of urgency, the Final Boarding Call setting would be sure to ramp up your pulse.

Better yet, the timer should allow for personalization. In my case, it would be really useful to have a Not Until You’ve Gotten To The End Of The First Draft setting, along with one marked That Deadline Is Sooner Than You Think.

Don’t ask me how all these terms could be practically arranged and organized in a clockface, whether digital or analog. That’s a problem for the designers. I’m just defining the need for the product.

As I write this, we are approaching the holidays — which clearly calls for an Oh Crap It’s December Already measurement. But to keep me in balance, my personalized elastic clock will include a daily setting marked That Can Wait, It’s Cocktail Hour.

Which, with luck, will last a good Seventh Grade.

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