The Everyday Time Machine

I love time manipulation stories, from H.G. Wells to Doctor Who and everything in between (or perhaps it’s more scattered and nonlinear with no in between). Anyway, it’s no wonder that when my workload became a little unrealistic recently my mind turned to a fictional way of dealing with it. Much to the chagrin of those around me, I find practical solutions often appear to me once I’ve first eliminated flights of fancy. I wasn’t thinking of the Hermione Granger approach so much, jumping in time so I could get everything done. Being at work and home at the same time sounds efficient but it could get confusing. No, I simply wanted a way to stop time for everyone else, so that I could complete all the tasks on my list, then restart time again and miraculously be on top of everything.  

Alas, I’m not a scientist. Popular science and how it weaves into speculative fiction in a way that appears true but probably isn’t, is much more my bag. As such I’m not going to build a time machine. It’s also unlikely that I’ll find a magical wardrobe, or a hidden doorway, a secret window or uncover a magical incantation. Looking around my humble surroundings there is seriously nothing available to me to pause time.

Then again, when I looked a little closer, it dawned on me that I was in fact, surrounded by time machines. Firstly, my alarm clock. When I set it an hour earlier, I remarkably have more time in the morning. I can get so much more done with that extra hour. Conversely, I realised my phone and laptop were time-sucking machines. If I combined ignoring them with the extra hour the alarm clock gives me, then it turns into even more time. The laptop, of course, is a mixed bag. Allowing work but ignoring social media and other online distractions is a tricky balance. Both take time, but only one provides income. With increasing work deadlines, it made the work option an easier choice to make. Looking at social media or reading the news doesn’t feed my family, nor does it nourish them with my company. It takes time away from them. Occasionally they may be grateful for that, but not always.

Filtering my surrounds through the prism of time I discover there are a bunch of other time machines at my fingertips. My dishwasher, clothes washer, vacuum cleaner. They all save me time while appearing to take it away. It can get confusing.

The most obvious time machine of all, the one that is constantly ticking away and tracking everything, is the one sitting in my head. Are we not, by our very nature, walking talking time machines? Our whole construct is based on time passing, from the cradle to the grave. It could be that our ability to conceive of time travel arose from a subconscious awareness of the fact that we can’t time travel. Or perhaps the idea is born from the understanding that we can only travel in one direction and at a set pace. We are locked in a body with a clock ticking away every day. We don’t know when that clock is going to stop, but we do know it’s ticking.

The mind is a very powerful time machine that directly affects how we perceive time passing. We can slow it down and speed it up. We can use tools to moderate our perception of time like meditation, relaxation and doing things we enjoy. We can speed it up using adrenaline and stress. And yes, we can waste it on things that seem important but on reflection were just distraction. Then there is reflection on distraction that compounds the waste of time but let’s not get stuck in that time loop. There’s a difference to being in the moment and letting moments pass without awareness.

Having explored the unrealistic, I’ve arrived at a rationalisation of time and that helps me get things done in a way that wastes less of it. It’s all relative but perhaps not in the way Einstein explained. One person’s waste of time can be another’s pleasure. Still, to be more in control of how I feel about what I do with my time, given I can’t control time itself or how much of it I have, feels anchoring. What more can we want when we are adrift in a sea of time on a journey of unknown length and destination? 

Evan Shapiro
Author – Road to Nowhere
A near-future pre-apocalyptic novel set 30 years after a climate crisis

What do you think?