I realized it had become out of hand the other night when i was in the middle of downloading a new exercise program. I found the proper file //:sit_and_slim.exe and clicked on it. The little download progress bar appeared and started to determine how long this was going to take. And the estimate always fluctuates when you first start it up, doesn’t it? Kind of like an old Chevy; start it up and the gas gauge shoots to full, you have to wait a few moments to get any sort of realistic reading.
So the digital needle shoots from 18 kilobytes- per- second, up to 512 and back down a few times before settling. Estimated download time; five minutes thirty five seconds.
Now this is where i take issue.
Once it seems that the download (or whatever I have the computer do that is involved enough to warrant a progress bar) has settled into a nice pace and can give me a level reading of how much time it will consume, I try to plan the next several bits of my life accordingly. And I try to base my plans on the estimated time allotted.
Time has never been an easy thing for mankind to judge. I say judge instead of measure because I do not believe it to be a simple mathematical science, and in no way exact; everyone can understand the theory of relative time when its explained in the ‘an hour with a pretty girl is shorter than ten minutes with a boring book’ metaphor; there is also the idea that time slows down as one travels at rates approaching the speed of light; there are also those who believe that time is curved, or even that it actually moves backwards.
So given the complexity of the situation and the widely varied beliefs about time, I think it is commendable that we have found a relatively reliable way to measure the passage of communal events. I think its also particularly intriguing that even in the days before computers, electric light, even telescopes or sophisticated math systems, we- as a whole- have been able to determine that our little planet takes roughly 365 days to circle once around the sun.
By now, with advanced technology, we have determined the exact increment. We have made checks to previous theories, correcting our calendars and clocks as we learn more. The science of judging time has become so precise, that ‘one second’ is now defined as: The time needed for a cesium-133 atom to perform 9,192,631,770 complete oscillations.
Yet, invariably I come back to my computer exactly five minutes and thirty five seconds later and the progress bar reads ‘estimated time to complete: 2 minutes 08 seconds’.
It’s not my computer or my Internet connection. My computer is a hybrid of sorts; the processor is made of a highly sophisticated silica-like fungus which feeds on electrical impulses and reproduces quickly to meet my computing needs. For quicker Internet access i have a miniature sub-atomic particle accelerator buried under the house wired into a quantum-optic monster-cable; meaning that I am able to download the next ‘star wars’ movie even before it is filmed, as long as its not foggy out.
Besides, if it were my computer, the progress bar ideally would be able to take this into consideration. ‘Not running up to speed today, expect delays’ or some such thing. The computer should be able to see how badly it has estimated in the past and adjust accordingly.
But quite the contrary, I have found myself making such adjustments. After a couple weeks of arriving back at the computer early- only to see I still had minutes to wait for my downloads, or installs, or saves- I started mentally recalculating the times in my head. “Progress bar says ten minutes, I’ll come back in fifteen”.
One should not have to do this sort of math in ones head. Not with a computer sitting in front of oneself in broad daylight to see. Wasn’t the computer invented to alleviate us from such complex mental processes? Isn’t this the reason I have allowed it into my house? To do such work for me, instead of creating further headaches?
This frustration is only exacerbated by the fact that when I return to the computer after the adjusted allotment of time, the progress bar still reads “estimated time to complete: 1 minute 58 seconds”.
Now I begin to feel this inaccuracy is intentional. More than my previous feeling akin to ‘a watched pot never boils’, I now think that this is being done on purpose.
It reminds me of a lot of professional sports where play is based on a clock. The initial fifty eight minutes of a pro basketball game proceed much like any other fifty eight minutes, but those last two minutes can go on forever- and the bigger the game, the longer they seem to last.
And I am not talking about relative time or the sensation that time seems to slow down in moments of extreme excitement. I am talking about the very real fact that I can stand up from the television when the two minute warning clock pops up- I can make a sandwich and a cup of coffee smoke a pack of cigarettes download the latest fitness craze (weather permitting) excavate ancient ruins buried miles under my backyard and translate the fragments of writing found there-in and then return to the television- and there is still a minute thirty left in the game.
Who is behind this and why is this allowed to happen? Is it professional sports? The broadcasters? Or possibly the advertisers? This last thought seems the most plausible, as I return to check my download and see the progress bar surrounded by desperate ads all urging me to click on them.
Whatever the cause of this, I think it must be stopped. We have spent far too many thousands upon thousands of years getting to this point where we can describe so precisely the passage of time, only to let it be manipulated by outside forces with ulterior motives.
It makes me question how many of our senses, perceptions, devices and beliefs are fiddled with or altered to fit someone else’s agenda. How much of the information we receive- beyond being filtered by our own perceptual constructs- is corrupted before it even reaches us?
Or possibly, is our collective perception just simply that faulty? Instead of hinting at some sinister force deliberately misrepresenting measurements of time, is this actually showing of our ineptitude and the inherent flaws in mans attempts to describe the phenomenon which surround him? I imagine a galactic progress bar, which measures mans reach for enlightenment, and most surely reads, ”
one minutes twenty three seconds to go; evolution nearly complete”.
© Robert Emmett McWhorter (circa 2003)