Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Teens and the Relativity of Time

Did you know that until the late 1800s, communities all over the United States determined their own time? There were more than 300 different time zones in our country alone! Cities and towns set their clocks by the sunrise and sunset — so not only did the time change place to place, but it changed throughout the year. When rail travel became popular, this wreaked havoc with the train schedules. So everyone was forced to adopt a standard.

When I stumbled upon this trivia recently, I was not as surprised as you might expect. You see, I realized several years ago that time is relative. In fact, sometimes I feel like my own household has multiple time zones. Or dimensions. Or not-so-parallel universes.

Let me explain.

One might think that three people living in a single 2,300 square foot house would all be on the same clock. Mais non, it turns out there is a lot of room for interpretation. 

We may all agree that it's 11:45 pm, for example. But, while the grownups equate this with "Late," the teenager protests that it's "Not." While I may be aghast that the reading for AP U.S. History isn't done yet, that same teen assures me that (a) she has plenty of time and (b) I am "so" overreacting.

Weekends present similar anomolies. Four days off for Rosh Hashanah (thank you, תודה רבה, all our Jewish friends) might seem like a liberal amount of time for rewriting a particular analysis of Virginia Woolf's Death of a Moth. Why then do Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday pass us by without so much as a book cracked, a pen put to paper, or a finger on a keyboard? Why were we, once again, wide awake and thoroughly stressed out late the night before the edited paper is due?

Oh wait, my bad. It wasn't "Late."

I'm old. I'm tired. I would go to bed at about 9:00 each night if I had my way. My daughter and I will have to disagree on the definition of "Late." 

But, how about more relative terms like "Now," "Soon," and "Later?"

When I ask, "Can you please put your backpack away now?" I mean "Now." As in, "This very instant in the time and space continuum." I don't think I'm alone in this either. Merriam-Webster defines that harmless three-letter word as "at the present time or moment." 

When my daughter hears the word "Now," she interprets it differently. "Now" means "Some time ... later ... maybe ... if you feel like it."

Of course, like time itself, the concept of "Now" is endlessly changeable. When my daughter wants/needs/absolutely-has-to-have something, the word takes on all sorts of urgency. 

Maybe the discrepancy is because of where we are in our own relative lives. She's still fairly new at this, while I've almost certainly moved past my own halfway mark. Maybe time flies a little (or a whole lot) when you're middle-aged. I bemoan how fast my daughter's growing up. She bemoans having to study for Physics. Somehow six hours with that textbook feels longer to her than the last six years did to me.

Then again, why do I assume that my interpretation of time is the correct one? Albert Einstein asserted that "Time is an illusion." He said that "The separation between past, present and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one."

So, maybe my daughter's an Einstein after all. Who knew?

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