Science Says 2020 Put Most Of Us Into A Weird Timewarp


It's like trying to have a relationship with a ghost.
Image by Author via Canva

It's pretty common knowledge that time seems to move faster or slower according to a bunch of different factors:

  • how much you have to do
  • how much you're enjoying yourself
  • what you're dreading or looking forward to happening in the future

So how we perceive it can be manipulated by circumstance - research backs this up, it's not news to a busy mom or someone stressed out by a deadline.

But until the onset of Covid-19, researchers only had ordinary life experiences to use for their findings.

That all changed in early 2020 when Covid-19 hit.

With so many people now in isolation, researchers decided to use this new circumstance to test time perception.

They surveyed 604 people in the UK between April 7 and April 30 (2020).

A questionnaire asked them how fast they felt the time passed compared to before the pandemic hit daily and weekly.

It evaluated their moods, task load, and satisfaction with their level of social interaction.

What they found was pretty interesting.

Over 80% of those surveyed said time was moving differently than before lockdown.

So if you felt like time was being weird when you went into lockdown, you weren't imagining it - or you were, but so was practically everybody else.

Older people (who might be used to keeping busy in retirement) and those unhappy with their social interaction level felt time move slower.

Those with more stress and less to do also felt time slow down.

These findings support what any nine-year-old could already tell you - when you're bored, not enjoying yourself, or have nothing to do, time drags — Duh!

This also makes sense because most people have friends they see regularly and do fun things with. They probably missed their buddies and the activities they did with them.

So the combination of added stress plus less fun time to dilute said stress equals the slowing...down…of…time.
Image by Author via Canva

Here are some fun facts about time to pass the time with:

  • One second used to be defined as 1/86,400 the length of a day. But since the Earth's rotation isn't completely constant, tidal friction from the sun and moon slows our planet down and increases the length of a day by three milli­seconds per century.
  • For dinosaurs, a day was 23 hours long.
  • In 1972 a system of atomic clocks in more than 50 countries was created to be the absolute authority on time. It's so accurate that it takes 31.7 million years to lose about one second.
  • The world's most accurate clock measures the vibrations of a single atom of mercury. In a billion years, it won't lose one second.
  • Einstein showed that gravity makes time run more slowly - airplane passengers, flying where Earth's pull is weaker, age a few extra nano­seconds each flight.

And if that isn't enough to blow your mind - people who speak multiple languages experience time differently than the rest of us single-language heathens.

Time is one of those things that nobody understands, and it seems to run differently for everybody.

It's the eternal mystery and something we've been working to define for ages.

Here's how we've done it and how far we've come:

  • Earth Calendars (18000-8000 BCE) Hash-marked bones and moon-shaped pits were the pre-historic ways to keep track of days
  • Shadow Clocks (3500 BCE): Days got cut into segments by using columns or pillars to measure the sun's movement.
  • Keeping Time After Dark (1500 BCE): Pouring water slowly from one container into another with markings was one of the first ways to tell how much time passed without the sun. Other methods involved pouring sand, burning incense or candles with markings
  • Discovering Seconds (150 CE): To help astronomers track stars, they mapped the sky onto a globe. Each degree of longitude (360 in total) was divided into 60 segments called minutes—each of those into a further 60 smaller bits called seconds.
  • Earliest Mechanization (725 CE): The first known mechanical clock created by using flowing water to spin a wheel. An interlocking system of rods and levers marked the time with a drumbeat every quarter and a bell every full hour.
  • Refining The Measurement of Seconds (1267 CE): The Julian Calendar, which was out of sync with the equinox, was reworked in the 13th century using the most up to date map of its time to create units of time which established one second as 1/86,400 of a day
  • The Birth of the Modern Watch ( 1430 CE): The emergence of the first clock to drive its gears with a spring instead of water or weights appears. This design had better accuracy dropping only about four minutes per day, and was the origin of smaller timepieces like pocket watches.
  • The invention of the Pendulum Clock (1656 CE): Springs were too inaccurate for astronomers who required precision. This led to the creation of the pendulum clock, which only lost about a minute per day.
  • Modern Quartz Timekeeping (1927 CE): Gravity can slow pendulums, but researchers in the early 20'th century discovered electrified quartz crystals vibrate more consistently. So consistently, in fact, that the early quarts watches were only out by one-third of a second in a year.
  • First Atomic Timekeeper (1949 CE): Atoms resonate more dependably than quartz. So using microwaves to track oscillations, scientists created a time marker accurate to one second in eight months.
  • The Atomic Clock Redefines the Second - Again ( 1967 CE): An Atomic Clock works by manipulating atoms. The atom of choice being cesium. They heat them in an oven and sort them (some will turn out usable and some won't, they weed out the unusable ones with a magnet). After that, they microwave them and sort them again with another magnet. The ones that pass muster are perfectly tuned to the microwave frequency. The oscillation of those atoms gets measured. There are precisely 9,192,631,770 oscillations in one second. (I know I've oversimplified this, but just trying to understand it hurt my brain). Today's most advanced cesium clock loses a second per 300 million years.
  • The Visible Future( 2001 CE): Optical clocks which use visible light are out just one second every 140 million years. Unfortunately, they're too fragile to run for more than a few days. However, they do have the potential to spark a redefinition of the second - again.

It's no wonder we can't really understand our relationship with this complex, ever-changing wanderer. Every time we think we've got it figured out, the goalposts move.

Just when we think we're smooth sailing, the ship turns into a submarine, and we go deeper.

It's like trying to have a relationship with a ghost.
Image by Author via Canva

So did time move differently for you during lockdown?

Did something weird happen to your perceptions once you went into isolation?

Did you think maybe you were going crazy?

You weren't.

So take heart.

Because if you thought you were to blame for your dysfunctional relationship with the months, days, hours, minutes - and especially those mischievous seconds - in lockdown, it definitely wasn't you.

It was them.

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Musician, writer, toddler wrangler. Author of "How To Be Wise AF" guided journal available on Amazon as well as "The Automatic Parent" due out in Feb. 2022.


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