Monday, November 22

It's About Time

Give me a second real fast.

I’m counting down to the end of this semester. I’ve been fortunate enough to continue to take amazing classes and I’m encouraged by how far from conventional advertising we’re being pushed. Because it doesn’t work anymore. I think advertising as a medium is experiencing a monumental shift in thinking as attention gets scarcer and market variety increases with globalization. I’m happy to be in San Francisco during this change because many great new ideas have come from between these hills. I’m hoping to have a hand in designing the future of how companies and their customers interact with one another.

I’m currently taking a class called “Creative Planning,” which is taught by Steve Williams, the man who designed and built the T-Rex in Jurassic Park and the T-1000 in Terminator 2—both before computers and digital logic were so ubiquitous. The first day of class was wrapped around the brainstorming, problem solving, and methodology that went into crafting visual illusions in physical space. It comes as little surprise that Steve is a fan of numbers.

We have studied and examined everything from Euclid’s 47th Proposition to the Golden Ratio, with black holes and astrophysics sprinkled throughout the semester. Our discussions on the concept of time frequently leave me scratching my head as I try to comprehend time as a fluid element. I think best when I’m exercising and have recently come to some findings that I’d like to share. Ladies and gentlemen, start your watches…now.

Classical physics describes time as a constant, independent of the observer’s state of motion. Without getting over my head and risking inaccuracies, I’ll only state that our unique experience of time is the result of a perfect harmony of math and space. Thanks to some research, I’ve learned that “spacetime” is the meshing together of physical space and time into a conceptual grid. The interplay of mass comes into the picture and can warp this grid, actually changing the speed of time. This is one of the reasons that black holes are so fascinating;when something travels past the event horizon, their watch needs some major adjusting.

My most inspired thinking comes to me when I am moving through space by means of exercise. My bike rides, my runs, and my swims shift my thinking, and I’m working out my own theory on how everything is relative. I’d like to offer the following idea for discussion:

I. When I am at rest, I experience time in a particular way. When I am at ease, I know what an hour feels like and my thinking swims within a predictable range of depth. In other words, during my average day-to-day routine the thoughts in my head are no deeper than normal; they usually revolve around my daily responsibilities, social commitments, and general opinions about my surroundings.

II. However, when I suit up and get on my bike, things begin to change. I start climbing the hills of the city, then race down the other side with a pulse that’s around 160-170bpm. The speed at which I’m traveling through space on my bike is relatively faster than it should be for my given heart rate, making my perception of time slow down. In other words, when I get on my bike for one hour and race around faster than I’m used to going, it feels like I’ve only been riding for around 20-30 minutes. Weird.

III. Conversely, the opposite is true when I run. I lace up my shoes in search of any forgiving (read: flat) roads, and the inverse occurs. My heart rate fluctuates between 160-170, but I’m traveling at a speed that’s relatively lower than it should be for my higher heart rate. My perception of time then speeds up and a one-hour run can feel like it took two or three hours. Am I the only one that experiences this?

We talk a lot about film and cameras in class. Steve is an animator by trade and frequently talks about film speeds in conjunction with time. A high-speed camera captures many more frames, or tiny pictures, per second than a regular video camera. When played back, the visuals appear to be moving in slow motion. The reverse is theoretically true; when you record film slower than the standard (known as NTSC) 30 frames per second, the visuals appear to be pumped full of caffeine and move at warp speed.

Compare your brain to an infinitely more complex video camera and think about this: The heart pumps oxygen-rich blood to the brain and allows neural activity to occur. Our brains are constantly making sense of the sensory input that’s continuously wired in, and I wonder if the speed at which we think increases with more oxygen-rich blood. Thus, I wonder if it’s too much of a stretch to think our heart rate could be comparable to the frame rate of a camera. Could this give rise to a thinking-rate that can be related to our traveling speed through space? Is this related to how we experience time?

To test this theory, I would have to have to exercise for specific periods of time at different heart rates (BPM) and at different speeds, after which I’d report how long it felt like I was exercising. I expect that I’d see a strange sine wave where my heart rate, the speed at which I perceive time, and my speed through space all tie together in a subjectively scribbled graph.

So, if you find yourself losing track of time and consequently rushing to keep up, do something that gets that heart beating: some push-ups, a quick jog around the block, even a quick listen to some fast paced music. Otherwise, if you’re stuck sitting down and are watching the clock inch along, try to lower your pulse. Breathe deeply or put on some relaxing music to slow down your heart/ perception of time, and let the minutes speed past.

Give it a try and see how that sounds.

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