Why Time Seems to Speed Up As We Get Older

Posted on January 6, 2016



Life in the Boomer Lane has always believed that it is very unfair that, the older we get, the more time seems to speed up. She has written about this phenomenon before. Now, Vox reports that Robert Southern, a researcher, has decided to get to the cause of this.

LBL needs to insert, at this point, that getting to the truth of time speeding up is akin to getting to the truth about the evnts that took place in Area 54 in Rosewell. You may believe aliens landed (or that time speeds up), but you will never be able to prove it.

Unfortunately, so Southern concluded, after a series of experiments that were so boring that LBL needed to life her spirits by taking frequent breaks to watch reruns of the Republican debates.  The bottom line was that Southern was unable to prove anything. So, if the reality of time passing more quickly didn’t pan out, how about the perception of it doing so?

Everyone knows that it is way more fun to talk about the perception of things, rather than the hard facts. Our entire political system is based on this. Facts just get in the way. Politicians toss perceptions out to voters like automatic baseball or tennis ball dispensing machines. Voters can then say “I just don’t trust that guy,” even if we are unable to cite one actual thing he did to cause that distrust. So we say, “Time is moving so much faster than it used to,” with no proof, whatsoever, that this is so.

So, why, then, do we perceive that time is moving more quickly? Here are several possibilities, according to the article:

1. “Childhood is full of big, memorable moments like learning to ride a bike or making first friends. By contrast, adult life becomes ordinary and mechanized, and ambles along. ”

True dat. LBL can attest that entire decades of her life disappeared under mounds of diapers, Legos, and half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, while she was raising her children. One poopie diaper was pretty much like any other, and one stepped-on Lego with bare feet, the same. Suddenly, her male offspring had developed hairy feet and were using them to walk out the door into their own lives. Only Daughter used her brilliant argumentative style as a four-year-old to score a law school degree and then traded dolls for actual babies.

As Vox states, “Each passing year converts some of this experience into automatic routine which we hardly notice at all, the days and weeks smooth themselves out in recollection, and the years grow hollow and collapse.”  Since LBL needed a serious refrigerator break after this depressing description of her entire life, she will now move on.

2. “Each new minute represents a smaller fraction of our lives.” If you have moved beyond having to use your fingers to calculate and have nothing better to do, think about this: “One day as a 10-year-old represents about .027 percent of the kid’s life. A day for a 60-year-old? .0045 percent. The kid’s life is just… bigger.”

3. Our ability to recall events declines with age. If we can’t remember a time, it didn’t happen. LBL can personally attest to this phenomenon. She knows that whenever the topic is travel and Now Husband starts a sentence with “Remember when…” her answer will always be “No.” But now she has added, “Did I have fun?” and when NH says “Yes,” she is delighted.

4. Time flies when we’re busy or distracted — and adults are busier than children. Vox states “… being busy can somehow trick our memory into feeling like time is going by faster. Tasks that demand considerable attentional resources are perceived as briefer than tasks that are undemanding.” It continues with “It’s also possible that as adults, we feel like we never have enough time to do things — which our brain then interprets as time speeding up. Finding that there is insufficient time to get things done may be reinterpreted as the feeling that time is passing quickly. Deadlines always come sooner than we’d like.

LBL is onboard with this one. It makes the time she spends on Lumosity and watching “General Hospital” seem mighty significant.

5. Very memorable events are farther than they appear. Psychologists call this “forward telescoping” — i.e., our tendency to underestimate how long ago very memorable events occurred. If a memory seems unclear (and as we age, most memories do), we assumed it happened longer ago. But very clear memories are assumed to be more recent.

LBL has resolved this problem. When people ask her how long ago anything happened, she automatically doubles the time. This gets her closer to the actual reality.

Vox asks, “If our memories can trick us into thinking time is moving quickly, then maybe there are ways to trick our brains into thinking that time is slowing down — such as committing to breaking routines and learning new things. You’re more likely to remember learning how to skydive than watching another hour of mindless television.”

LBL, having just come from the dentist because of a crown that popped out (Sugar Daddys should come with some kind of warning on the label), can attest that the time spent in the dentist’s chair made time stop entirely. But, even given how much she would love time to slow down, she would rather have it speed up than spend more time in the dentist’s chair. She would also like to sue the Sugar Daddy Company, but she is sure the lawsuit wouldn’t go anywhere.

Posted in: aging, research