Measuring a moment

• ~400 words • 2 minute read

I know where I'll be this coming Friday, both time and place. And for some reason this has me thinking about the way we measure time and how it's always relative to something.

A day is a point within a week, a week one-52nd of the year arbitrarily divided into twelve months, and beyond the years we have centuries but no one feels much need to measure things by those terms outside of history books. Yes, the year is the most revered unit of time; a measurement of two celestial bodies in orbit. It's a consistent enough dance that we don't feel much need to ponder how such a unit is particular to our little corner of the solar system.

With that in mind, can you measure time without place?

If I tell you I'm in Constantinople on a Monday does that measure time? Well, it tells you that we're talking about a Monday before 1453. An imprecise measurement of time, but not completely indeterminate.

The purest expression of time — and I'm stepping way outside my domain here — would probably be some measurement of thermodynamic exertion; the baby steps taken towards the heat death of the universe. Right? It's still a measurement relative to our universe I suppose, but it might have grander relevance than a single planet revolving around a star.

What about time as a feeling? The doomsday clock is not a literal timekeeping device but rather an indicator of geopolitical stability and unrest. But if I told you about an adventure I had when the doomsday clock was at 5 minutes to midnight that would at least indicate it didn't take place in 2010.

Unix time tells us the number of seconds since 1970.

A basketball player's career can be measured in games and years, or it might be more accurate to measure in minutes played.

More subjectively, we can regard time as a collection of memorable experiences. I think of this one often. There's a calendar in my kitchen — given to me at a local sentō in Japan last December, I think perhaps because I stopped by so often, though it feels much more recently to me — and I marvel at how it's nearly the end of June already. Last year was saturated with experiences and made the days, weeks and months seem bigger. This year entire months have slipped by and I scarcely notice.