Where on earth did the time go? When I look back on 2020, the months take on a haze of dimly-lit images: my bed, my jogging route, the living room, my laptop. I think it’s fair to say that in spite of the house fires, infrequent alien abductions and spontaneously vanished pool ladders, my Sims 4 family was having a better time than I was.
In the entirety of the year, there is one short period that holds any significance in terms of time, and that is my workaway stint in the Canaries. If lockdown was dull fugue, a personal Dark Ages, the few months spent abroad managed to become something akin to cracking open of an egg: brief, bright, visually memorable. I was discovering an entirely new place and its people. I made friends, went on hikes, visited museums and restaurants. Despite occurring over small fraction of the year, the way in which the time was spent there was so much more engaging than lockdown that, even now, it occupies a far more gargantuan portion of my mind.
Obviously, experiencing the ways in which time can be distorted so heavily are not unique to me, or anyone else who has lived abroad. Everyone knows how different an hour can feel waiting with a dead phone in a hospital lobby versus the same amount of time spent laughing over drinks with friends. A week-long holiday can feel far longer and more significant than an entire semester of college. In much the same way that, for many of us, life over the past two years only felt like it was being truly lived in the short, intermittent bursts of eased restrictions.
A common sentiment, particularly amongst those in their teens and twenties, many of us feel as though a huge chunk of our life has just gone . With little stimulation other than possible assignments, video games and the odd skype call, we managed to while away time to such an unprecedented extent that, looking back, we were barely feeling it at all. Even for those who managed to maintain some semblance of a rule-flouting social life, large swathes of 2020 and 2021 still appear desolately empty. All across various social media are deprecating jokes about skipping the exciting ages of twenty to twenty-two, bewilderment over suddenly exiting the pandemic as an “adult,” and laments over the loss of latter teen years. Despite tending somewhat towards the dramatic, I would wage that these are a genuine reflection of what most young people are currently feeling.
Some would argue that the sensation that time passing faster as we gradually become older is not a new phenomenon. Pandemic or no, as we age our brains become more complex, convoluting our neural pathways, and because of this we take longer to process visual imagery. Time for children appears to pass more slowly because they are quite literally processing more stimulus each second. We can take comfort in the fact that the feeling that time has snapped by is – to an extent – normal.
Of course, the extent to which it did snap by for most people wasn’t quite normal and, for many, a little upsetting. Just as I feel as though the majority of my 2020 existed within the parameters of three months, there are those who feel as though it existed within the scope of a few weeks or even days. Perhaps the only consolation is to take it as an early lesson on how precious and fleeting a resource time truly is. The days are going to pass by no matter how little you engage with them.
So, with this in mind, how do we make the most of time?
According to the neuroscientist, David Eagleman, the more detailed your memory, the longer a moment seems to last. In other words, the more that you are stimulating your mind and breaking out of your routine – meeting new people, visiting new places, learning new skills – the more that you are going to remember and, in turn, the less bewildering the passage of time is going to feel. This makes sense when we think about lockdown, which was typically stimulating insofar as discovering new ways your siblings-slash-roommates could drive you mad.
Maybe now is the time to push yourself to do the things you were too scared to before. Go somewhere, get a new part-time job, join a class. Even the famed J1 is available once more. Perhaps it’s time to save up some funds and head to the States, or backpack across Europe – or even visit a different part of Ireland. We’ve seen how quite literally hiding in our rooms has made life seem as though it hasn’t really happened. At the risk of sounding incredibly cheesy, how many of us are still doing it metaphorically?