Monday, May 25, 2009

May 2009: Can You Believe it’s 1947?

In July 2008, our Aunt Rose Marie Gavoor passed away. In her final years, she was a resident of the Riverwoods assisted living and nursing care facility in Exeter, New Hampshire. My father, my Uncle Buddy, Judy, and I went to clean her things from her small room/apartment at Riverwoods. Many of her household goods had already been in storage since she had left her home in Rye some years ago. While she was living, these items were passed along according to her wishes to extended family members. As Uncle Rouben and Aunt Rose Marie never had children, their nieces and nephews were like their children and their great and even great grand nieces and nephews were like grandchildren and great grandchildren. Most of their furnishings are in our homes now and we remember them every time we walk across a rug here or set sometime on chest of drawers there. It is a good thing and a good way to keep those we love in our lives and hearts on a daily basis.

In July, we were going through Aunt Rose Marie’s correspondence, photos, and other memorabilia. Basically, these were the things she saved from her life that defined her life, that were important to her. I was impressed by her organization and care with which she kept so many things in such a small room.

She had the menu from the St. Regis where they had their first dinner as a married couple. I was glad she had saved that. It put things in a certain perspective. For $3-4, the price of a cup of coffee in a fine New York City restaurant today, they were able to get a prime rib dinner with side dishes and desert. Amazing.

What really caught my attention was a letter. It was written on that ultra thin bluish Air Mail stationary that was so popular in the early days of Air Mail. I did not recognize the name of the sender. It was not an Armenian and certainly not a relative. It was from a friend of theirs. I am even having trouble remembering if it was from a man or a woman.

Both Aunt Rose Marie and Uncle Rouben took their correspondence seriously. Having been in the US Foreign Service, they had friends and acquaintances from everywhere they had lived: New York, Washington DC, Nepal, Sudan, and Yugoslavia. They knew people in most of the major European countries as well as throughout Africa and Middle East. Uncle Rouben always used to ask us, the grand nieces and nephews if we were “keeping up with our correspondence.” They corresponded with us all and expected us to write back. We would hear from them if we did not respond in a timely manner to their letters. None of us ever wanted to get the letter with his famous biting catch phrase, “In spite of your callousness, we love you just the same.” Whenever we get together, someone will always invoke this famous Uncle Rouben quote.

So, I opened this Air Mail envelope to see who it was from and what it was about. The first line just struck me: “Can you believe it’s 1947?” The impact and amusement of this little question kept growing. I had thrown away the letter thinking then that it was not too important and we were already saving so many things. But since then, I have been more and more fascinated with the memorable opening line. I now wish that I had saved it.

This is not so much about time management as the passage of the time. People are always saying, “I cannot believe how fast the summer has gone.” Older parents are always telling new parents, “Enjoy the time. It will go faster then you think. In a blink of an eye they will be graduating from high school and leaving home.” Time does seem to accelerate as we age, doesn’t it?

I have heard the phrase, “Can you believe it’s…” 1985, 1991, 1999, 2004, fill in the blank. But the years that I have heard are the years that I have been living. This is why, “Can you believe it’s 1947?” struck me in such a way. 1947. It could have been 1938, 1924, 1855, or even 932. Basically, the year was before my time, before my parents were even married.

It struck me so, because I think of accelerating time as something of this modern age. I had believed it was due to the whir and hum of modern life, our 24/7 lifestyle, the time consuming inter-connectivity of the electronic media, the internet, cell phones, movies anytime we want them. I thought the hustle and bustle of the business world, the commuting to and fro, and managing the various family activities keep us all more engaged than ever making time just zoom along.

Apparently, that is not the case. Time was accelerating for the friend that wrote Aunt Rose Marie. He or she was astonished that it was already 1947. 1947 less than a year and half after the end of World War II… 1947.

What happened in 1947? Back then I would have had to go to the library and seek out almanacs and encyclopedia year books to find out. Now, the internet allowed me to quickly present this summary without leaving my desk, to simply toggle between Microsoft Word and a few internet pages. In 1947, unemployment in the US was 3.9%, it was the beginning of the era of true American dominance in the world. Domestic postage in the US was a mere 3¢ versus the current 44¢ which will, no doubt, soon grow. 1947 was the year the Marshall Plan was proposed to assist the recovery the European nations recover from the ravages of the war. It was the year that Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Yankees and Dodgers played in the World Series with the Yankees taking it 4-3. Harry Truman was president of the United States and Joseph Stalin was the General Secretary of the Communist Party and leader of the USSR. It was the year Henry Ford died. It was the year Thor Heyerdahl traversed the Pacific on his raft called the Kon-Tiki. Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947.

So, this phenomenon of time accelerating and zooming along is not only of my time. I wonder if Socrates, Columbus, or Beethoven had such thoughts. Why does time seem to accelerate? Why are we astonished that it is 1947 or 2009?

The best explanation for this seeming accelerating passage of time came when I was an undergraduate. It came from a mathematics professor as only they can observe things. I wish I could remember. I am guessing it was Alan Baum, Ron Morash, or Bob Fakler. I can envision either of them telling me this. Simply put, we think time is accelerating because each passing year accounts for a lesser percentage of our net experience. OK… I may have lost you here. Let me explain it the way it had to be explained to me.

Let’s say you are 1 year old. The next year will end up being 50% of your entire experience. If you are 9 years old, the next year comprises 10% of your entire experience. With each passing year, the next year is a smaller percentage of your life of your living experience. If you are 24, your 25th year is 1/25th or a whopping 4% of your entire experience. No wonder that time seems like it is accelerating. When you are 49 years old, the next year is 2% of your experience.

Let’s call this the Diminishing Experiential Theory (DET) of why time seems to zip along faster with each passing year.

Of course, I tried to find explanations for this on the internet. I searched on a variety of phrases and words. When I searched on “acceleration of time,” Google provided all kinds of pages and sites expounding on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. In fact, when searching on anything using the words “acceleration” or “time.” Basically, the Theory of Relativity is based on the speed of light being constant versus the basic belief that most of have that time is constant. In the Theory of Relatively time slows down the closer we get to the speed of light. To add to the science fiction of it, time progresses more slowly in higher gravitational fields.

The classic Theory of Relativity tale is of a fellow who goes off on a two year space trip at speeds near the speed of light. Upon returning, he is shocked to find that fifty plus years has elapsed. The DET certainly seems at least as plausible an explanation for the relativity of time as experienced on planet Earth.

I got a lot more interesting responses using phrases like “years going by faster.” This avoided all the serious relativity sites and provided some humorous insights. One link took me to a dating site called Plenty of Fish. Oh my, I just admitted to my wife, mother and daughter that I had just been to a dating page!!! Someone posed a question in on a chat page… gee I keep digging a bigger and bigger hole for myself.

Anyway, the question posed was “Does it seem the older you get the faster the years go by?” A fellow named Nowhere Man basically laid out the DET. It resonated with most though someone did post that “Nowhere Man clearly has too much time on his hands.” Some of the postings were pretty funny. UrbanX got me laughing with this one:

It's related to Einstein's Theory of Relativity as someone indicated, but not really in the way they indicated. When you're young, your head is closer to the ground and as you age it moves further away. This is not only due to your height increasing, also due to working in office towers and flying on airplanes. This is the tricky part, so pay close attention to my fingers. As your head is further away from the ground, it is actually rotating faster than the ground and is thus closer to the speed of light. Relativistic effects kick in and the calendar, which runs on the timescale of the ground, moves more quickly than you do. Hence, the feeling that time is moving faster as we age. It quite literally
This ties it all together. Further evidence that UrbanX is onto something is that when we get really old, we shrink and time begins to progress at a slower rate again. Well, at least I may have that to look forward to.

I have been out of a job since the end of October. What I cannot believe is that it has been six months. This time has just raced by. I have never had a six month period that has gone so quickly. I actually thought it was just me, but it seems to be a nature of the beast. A few of the Newell disenfranchised meet for lunch every few weeks to bolster each others spirits and provide support. Last time we met, Mike mentioned that he could not believe how fast the time has gone. The rest immediately agreed and expressed what I had been thinking that it was just me. Thankfully, we realized it was the nature of our situation.

Why is this?

I believe it is the difference between regular working time and heavy internet usage time. Job searching this days involves a lot of time on the internet, hitting the job boards, working LinkedIn, and using e-mail even more heavily than when we were working. Internet time certainly moves faster than regular time. It is truly another example of the relative nature of the passage of time.

Here are some different perspectives…

I can believe on May 19th, my sister Laura would have been fifty-one years old. I cannot believe it is going on seven years since she passed away.

On the same day, I learned that our dear friend Jack Papazian passed away. I learned on April 14th that he was diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease. This degenerative neurological disease is fast moving, incurable, and fatal. I cannot believe that the disease took him so quickly, basically one month.

Jack was only sixty-nine years old. When I was twenty, I believed that sixty-nine was old. Now, I believe that he died way too young.

Death stops and footnotes the time of our lives. We all remember where we were and what we are doing. Where were you when Princess Di died? Where were you when President Kennedy was assassinated? We remember those moments like they were yesterday.

But it is not just the sad moments. It is the happy moments.

I vividly recall May 23, 1981 when my son Aram was born. I remember it vividly and it does seem like 28 years.

We have a couple of other happy moments coming up this year. Do I believe that I my children are getting married this year? No not at all. Has it been a blink of the eyes since they were born? Not really. Even with the amount of business travel I had, I really truly enjoyed the time being with them, watching them grow, and believing I had some influence in that process.

I really cannot believe it is 1947… er… 2002… I mean 2009.