One April 1st morning long ago, my clock radio awakened me to the CBC host announcing that since Canada was shifting to metric for measuring distance and temperature and weight, it was now time to adopt metric time.
As of that morning, there would be 10 hours in a day and 100 minutes in an hour. Every Canadian would get a $50 tax rebate to offset the cost of getting a new metric watch.
Groggily, I asked myself how I’d missed all this. Then the CBC host said: “April Fools!”
“Oh gawd, leave me alone.”
Today’s Pandemic Standard Time feels a little like my morning with metric time. The minutes race by, the hours drag on, and the signposts that kept my rhythms on an even keel seem to have been stolen in the night.
The first sign for me was sleep.
For decades, I simultaneously craved it and deprived myself of it, with crankily predictable results. Now, I get 9 hours of sleep a night, sometimes even 10, and what do I feel the next day? Tired. I also nap before dinner, and wake up groggy. Maybe I need less sleep.
My concentration is shot. It takes me hours to do what I used to do in minutes. Thank Heavens I’ve got so little work, otherwise I’d be in real trouble. When I have to work on two things in the same day, I bounce between them, and often end up getting neither done well, let alone at all.
Now comes my perception of time.
I may be turtle-like in what I get done, but the day itself passes with lightning speed. Right after breakfast, I go to my desk here at our cottage. I look up and suddenly it’s noon. How did it get to be that? Sure, I trawled the news sites, answered email, did……stuff. Then after a quick lunch maybe I have a Zoom call, and that’s pretty much the day gone.
Oh, I do manage to get out for an hour’s walk or bike ride. But again, Pandemic Time plays tricks. By my iPhone stop-watch I set out at 1:00 p.m. to walk an hour up and down our country road. I return at precisely 2:00 p.m. to the exact spot where I began. But somehow, it takes me an hour to take off my jacket and pour a coffee before I’m back at my desk.
The other scary thing is that I go completely crazy if someone schedules a phone call at 5:00 p.m. and then an email arrives inviting me to another call at 5:00 p.m. In the old days of March, I’d simply put off the second call until tomorrow morning. But now, I’m frozen. Which call should I take? What should I do?! Help!
Even though, and this is another fright, my calendar tomorrow is absolutely empty. For you analysts out there, my panic may be precisely because my calendar (and therefore my self-worth) is empty. But I digress….
I prefer to think that this pandemic has arrived with its own highly refined sense of time. It’s not just a plague; it’s an alarm clock.
I mean, didn’t we all have plenty of time, really, to prepare for it? Wasn’t it howling for weeks that we should run for the hills?
And now we know just what a wake-up call it is.
We’re four weeks in to something that will last another four to eight weeks, and likely more.
Wars and natural disasters have upturned millions of people throughout history. But not since humans first walked the earth have billions of lives and routines been suddenly suspended. It’s little wonder our sense of time feels out of whack as well.
Amid the zillions of lessons the pandemic is forcing us to learn about time, one for sure is how reliably it rules our lives. Maybe we can use this forced time-out to think of new ways to calculate its value.
After all, for years there’s been a noodle bar in Tokyo that charges not according to what’s on the menu, but by how long you sit at your stool. They’re betting that the longer you sit, the more you’ll eat.