The new year has started with all its expectations. It is new. But it is also a year: twelve months, 365 days, 7 days in a week, 24 hours in a day. While we cannot predict what will happen in 2016, we can be confident about time. That doesn’t change.
Or does it?
My telephone was unable to upload a recently updated App. I am far from an expert in these matters, so I went to the local outlet of Swisscom for some friendly advice. The young man at the counter was most cordial as he began playing with my phone. But the conversation changed rather quickly.
“Your phone is rather outdated,” he exclaimed after several digital moves that left me awestruck. “It’s only generation 4 while mine is already generation 9,” he proudly showed me.
“But my phone is only two years old,” I replied, sensing that this was all a setup to get me to buy something new and more expensive. “My phone still works, except it cannot receive the updated App.”
“Things change very quickly,” he patiently explained, beginning a tone that while not quite condescending, led me to believe that we were coming from different time zones. “Information in phones get regularly updated such that a new generation comes out every six months.”
“For me,” I insisted, “a generation is a person’s lifetime. While I don’t expect my phone to last a lifetime, I do think that built-in obsolescence is just a consumer trap to force me to keep buying what I don’t need or want.”
He smiled, obviously tired of explaining to people like me that built-in obsolescence was obvious to everyone, that sales were booming of the newer and more expensive phones, and that I would eventually wind up buying a new phone and parting with the instrument I was friendly and comfortable with. I had no choice; the producers were way ahead of me.
When is a generation in time not a person’s lifetime? The new generation of phones comes out every six months. The old generation cannot function with the new material. Are the makers of these instruments not only changing time, but are they also trying to tell me that my generation, like my phone, is no longer functional?
I don’t use PowerPoint for my lectures; I expect the audience to follow my train of thought without visual aids. I don’t read on a Kindle; I still like to turn pages. I don’t buy books on Amazon; I like to browse in bookstores. The phone salesman, like many other people in similar situations, made me feel like a dinosaur, or someone with a horse who saw the first automobile whiz through town.
We all have an innate sense of time. Seasons come and go, sunrises and sunsets don’t need stopwatches. Nature has its rhythms; people have biorhythms. Can these innate biorhythms be changed? Can nature be changed as well?
My visit to the phone store was most revealing. Besides from the fact that I will have to buy a new phone and that my definition of generation has been overtaken by technological changes, I learned that time is not as constant as I had imagined.
Will time be constant in 2016? Will the new year remain 365 days, 12 months, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day? Or is it just our perception of that time that has changed? There is no question that the patient salesman had a very different sense of time than I have.