We don’t usually remember mundane things. Repetitive tasks somehow tend to blend together as we remember only general, global ideas. Need proof? Just ask yourself what you did in a given day in the past. Let’s say… April 27, 2001. Most people(me included) will fail remembering anything from that particular date, so they’ll just use the general information about that period, as well as their common-sense, to extrapolate what they might have been doing on that particular date. Me, I was in the last semester of my second year of college, so I probably studied, or worked on the numerous homeworks and projects. I was also, probably, spending time with my girlfriend from college. Nothing more comes to mind, though. On the other hand, what about February 17, 2000? Well, that’s a lot easier – it was my birthday, I visited my grandfather in the hospital, and it was the last time I saw him alive(he died one week later, may he rest in peace). I even remember a few of the things we talked about, and how one of the hospital roommates did a magic trick with a cigarette. What about December 31, 2007? That’s even easier – it was the date I proposed to my lovely current wife, and I can remember a lot more things from the date, including moments from the New Year’s party afterwards.
This was a long paragraph, meant only to prove a point – we don’t usually remember every single step and every single breath and every single thing of an otherwise ordinary activity. Instead, we remember our lives by key moments, by the moving discutions, by extraordinary events. Key events create anchors in our memory and define our perception of time. Time seems to stretch when we do memorable things, and dim until vanishing from our memory when we do ordinary ones.
This is why the latest project of this guy, a BBC News journalist, seems so intriguing to me. Matt Danzico is taking on an interesting self-experiment this year: he tries to prolong his perceived life by putting himself, each day, through a new or uncomfortable experience. In his own words, research suggests that while having new and unusual experiences time seems to go slower, while during ordinary and casual ones time seems to go faster(we are talking about the backwards perception of time past). Matt’s experiences range from boring and simplistic ones(look at paint drying, eating left handed, etc.) to the more exciting(jump from a moving car), and he tries to time each one of them using a chronometer, but without looking at it, thus being able to compare his afterwards estimations with the actual time spent.
I haven’t read all his experiences(and likely never will), but I did enjoy jumping at the end of some of them and compare his estimations with the chronometer’s results. The differences between perceived time and actual one are mind-blowing(for some experiments there’s a gap of over 50%), and I think they are a great indicator of the human incapacity of accurate time estimation.
I’ll conclude this unusual post by recommending you to try and experiment new and even uncomfortable things, like Matt does. Not one each day, since in my opinion even an ‘unusual’ routine ends up being just this – a routine, but at least once each week. Do memorable stuff, to remember this year by.
Have a long perceived life!
Photo credits: Jinto!