I have been thinking a lot about time lately. Specifically, the past 14 months that Kim and I have spent traveling. This came about by coming back to the United States and how it had a sense of finality to it, like our travels were coming to an end. I kept thinking to myself what has the time spent traveling meant?
I don’t really know how to explain it other than knowing that the past 14 months have felt different from all of my other 382 months. Time during the last 14 months seems to have moved in a different way. I have spent the past 6 weeks or so thinking about the why – why does time feel different while traveling?
I have realized that I can’t fully explain this in a way that does it justice. So, I turned to one of my favorite episodes of Radiolab “Time” to help. (Oh, and if you have never listened to Radiolab, it is one of the best programs, in any kind of media, around.) The podcast is an hour-long, so to save you some time (no pun intended), I’ll pull out the most pertinent quotes from Brian Greene, a theoretical physicist at Columbia University:
“Time is that which allows us to see something has changed. When you see the second-hand in your clock going around, it is changing position. And that is the simplest version of change corresponding to time elapsing.”
“Time itself is not some universal concept. Time is held by the individual, by the observer. So that if I am moving relative to you, time for me elapses at a different rate than it does for you.”
“So this whole notion, that we all have, that time kind of applies the same to everybody on earth…is totally wrong.”
During the podcast, they explain one of Einstein’s famous thought experiments. It goes something like this:
Two people stand at a location and synchronize their watches. One person stays in the same spot and one person leaves, traveling at an extraordinary high-speed (i.e. the speed of light), goes on a trip around the world, then meets back up with the other person. When they check their watches, they will not be on the same time. The person’s watch who goes on the high-speed trip will be behind in time relative to the person who stayed in the same spot. Here’s the kicker: during the time elapsed, the watches are moving at the same speed, meaning one minute = 60 seconds on both of their watches.
What this shows, in a literal sense, is that time for one person will be different from time for another person depending upon how each person moves.
So, you might be thinking to yourself, “OK, Einstein claims that time is not universal, that it is different for everyone. How does this pertain to traveling?”
Well, I don’t rightly know. But it helps me to explain why living on the road seems to be so much different from my old working life. I like to think that by traveling, by experiencing new things, by expanding my horizons of what I think and feel, that I am in effect slowing down my time. I want to think that my clock is moving slower, that I am experiencing things more slowly and therefore absorbing more.
Regardless if time actually moves at a different pace while traveling or not, the fact is time spent traveling is going to make up a relatively low percentage of my life. If I live to 76 (currently the average life expectancy for men in the US), I will have to travel for 4 years to make up just 5% of my entire lifetime. That’s a lot of time spent on the road for a relatively short amount of my life, but it will seem like much more than 5% of my life.
Now, I don’t know if this means anything, but it feels like it means something. It feels like time is moving differently – and maybe that’s all that matters.