The Elasticity of Time

I’ve always been impressed with the elasticity of Time. You’ve probably seen a few examples of it yourself—how a moment doing this passes longer than an hour doing that. How you stumble upon a movie that you haven’t thought of in quite a while and suddenly realize you can’t quite place it in time. That last one happened to me just this last week, as I was scrolling through the TV listings and happened upon Tom Hanks in Castaway. It turns out that film came out in the year 2000, which means it can drive now and it’ll be old enough buy a drink next year. How can that be? Really?

We measure time in a way we have found to be convenient and not really by any specific events. In other cultures, in other eras, they tried systems where every day had 24hrs, and the hours themselves grew or shrunk depending upon the season. That must have been a handful, huh? Then again, maybe one day another culture will wonder about our having so many time zones and then still using concepts like Daylight Savings. I don’t know. But what we call a day doesn’t begin at sunrise or end at sunset. And we have ordered our weeks and months and years accordingly, too. It doesn’t really matter anymore when the planting is done or the deities are born or anything like that.

When I think of a collection of time, like The Twenties, I think of the period from the end of WWI to October of 1929, and the great stock market crash. Now, that actually lines up pretty closely. I might choose different dates if I had to define “The Roaring Twenties” but to me, “The Twenties” is right there. The Armistice of WWI was signed (and many would argue the seeds of WWII were sown) in November of 1918. That left hardly any of 1918, but all of 1919 to join “The Twenties” in my view. And this period lasted, as I said, right up until October 29th of 1929, which itself left hardly any of October, and then only November and December of 1929 before the “The Thirties” began”. Whenever I think of “The Thirties” they all seem to be pretty much the same. Sure, a lot of that is my own ignorance, but to me, a photo of a family from the start looks very much like a photo of a family at the end, even if you include a home and a car in the picture. So there’s your Twenties and your Thirties.

But if you say “Nineteen Forties” to most people, I don’t think many will conjure up a time before the decade had already run two years. Japan attacked Hawaii in December, of 1941, so it wasn’t until January of 1942 that things started to really buzz with change. And I place the end end of “The Forties” at about the early-middle 1950s, with the end of Harry Truman’s presidency and the placing of America back on a peacetime Atomic Cold War footing. To me, the Fifties don’t get started until Ike and the T-Bird and Rock-N-Roll. Lose those cultural landmarks, and folks were motoring along pretty much as they had since 1946 or 1948, weren’t they? And (again, to me) the era we call the Fifties runs until the end of November of 1963.

The Nineteen Sixties didn’t start until JFK was gone. When he stepped into that limousine in Dallas I think most people still thought, acted and dressed in ways they had for a good long time. Certainly since 1959, 1557 and probably even 1954 or so. When John-John saluted that flag, though, he was showing in a whole new scene in Arts and Music and hair and fashion and civil rights, women’s rights and plenty more. A film clip of a typical family from the summer of 1963 would have more in common with a family from the Korean war era than anything to do with Woodstock or walking on the Moon.

And those are the markers I use to start the 1970s. The summer of 1969, to me, started “The Seventies” and while it had a lot going on, and there were a lot of things starting and stopping then, the Seventies seemed to end when they started the daily hostage count on the TV news, which ended with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. The Nineties? Those started with oral sex on the TV news every night and ended with Y2K being the end of us all. Or… not, depending upon which elevator or bunker you found yourself in that night.

Does it seem like this to you? Time rarely lines up according to the calendar, to me.

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