MATR: Sensing Time

Making New Forms of Time:

Time is one of those truly strange things, it feels like it is just “there” and at the same time it is something created. And it is created in part by us. One of the questions that is really crucial to our work at spurse is this question of how and what forms of time we are creating today.

The question of creation of new forms of time is best understood in relation to how time is just “there” today.  We live in a world today where everything is sped up, our lived experiences of time are seemingly about speed.  Just think about how frustrated we can get when we do not get a prompt answer to a text (when did this shared politeness develop to the decorum of an immediate answer?). Data, people goods, ideas — they are all moving at astonishing speeds. And they are all moving in very new manners — going viral, in clouds, across swarms, renditions, grey markets, etc. This is something we all sense deeply — it is not really something anyone really needs to point out to us. Life is fast. And we experience it as being swept up — being swept us in a present that is like the experience of being in a rapid stream with banks that are too steep and smooth — there is no way to pause, stop or rest.

This is one new form of time that we have participated in its creation. Rapid time. It is the most obvious novel form of time. But what other forms of time are being produced as part of this speeding up? The irony is that speeding things up has led to new really long forms of time coming into existence — really long — millions of years long. The durations of time are getting slower and longer. So both faster and slower. Both Rapid time and deep time.

Deep time is something we normally equate with natural processes — evolution, astronomy, geology… The movement of the earths crust or the evolution of a new species. But it is not only the earth that is producing novel forms of deeptime today — we are. Think about something a simple as needing more energy and developing nuclear power. The nuclear materials that we are producing have active lives that stretch into the millions of years. This is a new duration that we have made. Our present actions make something become active for millions of years.

What does this mean? Millions of years? The time cycle of energy we most directly feel is the immediacy of turning on or off a switch — lights, coffee machine, stereo, computer we do this constantly. The immediacy is even more so: energy is simply always there — our tvs, computers and cell phones are just on and at the ready. But what we do not sense the massive nature of the system that brings these forms of energy to us — or feel the millions of years into the future that this material will remain active.

Millions of years — the number is impossible to fathom. We can understand millions of dollars or millions of bits of information reasonably well. But when we begin to talk of millions who died in war — at this point the scale is beginning to extinguish the possibility of understanding or responding. We throw these large numbers about all of the time, but the radicality of “millions” to our everyday ways of thinking and acting is shocking. Let us take as a simple example human history. Let us go back to time, but let us start with a much smaller number, say 2,000 years — in the last 2,00 years Christianity began, Empires rose and fell: Mayan, Inca, Roman, German, English, American… And this is just in 2,000 years. We only need to expand this to 60,000 years, already a huge leap in scale, and we have pretty much all of human history: From the great early empires of China and the Middle East to the movement of humans out of Africa.

So how do we come to terms with millions of years now that we have made them?

This is a real question. And one that we have nothing like an answer.

It perplexes us.

And it gets us very curious about the actualities of our world. How do we live in the present when it stretches millions of years into the future? How do we sense these enormous scales of time that we have produced? Can we interact with such scales?

(To be continued)

NOTE: We are writing this because we are developing, as a way to explore this question, a new sense organ. A sense organ for deeptime. We have been up to Kitchener Ontario to do fieldwork with CAFK+A over the last week. See MATR blog post.