Time Flies–When You’re Getting Older

By North Charleston
As we get older, the passage of time seems to accelerate. Clinical social worker Linda A. Chernus, writing in Time & Society last year, says that this is especially true for the elderly.

Chernus examines the experience of “remembered” time, as she calls it. As people age, they have a longer period of experience in which to place remembered time. An 80-year-old person, for example, perceives a two-year span passing faster than a 20-year-old.

But perhaps something else is going on as well: older adults experience more change in their life compared to younger adults. Technology, which is developing at a faster speed today, also plays an important role in the experience of remembered time.

Changes in perceptions of death shape perceptions of time as well, according to Chernus. It’s more socially acceptable to talk about death, along with other once taboo subjects as money, taxes and sex. Perhaps this growing death consciousness makes our remaining time seem more precious, and makes it appear to pass more quickly.

Finally, Chernus suggests that the United State’s “historic and ongoing devaluation of elderly” also plays a role in the acceleration of remembered time. She wonders whether the same is true of other societies, such as Asia, with its traditions of reverence for the elderly.

But is it really accurate to speak of time in terms of experience? No, says informatics expert Mario Radovan, in “Time is an Abstract Entity” in the same issue of Time & Society. Time, he says, is really only a “matter of discourse”—a “metaphorical expression.” He suggests that we speak of “change” instead of “time.”

Whether he’s right, only time—or change—will tell.