It’s easy to say 2020 has been one of the most chaotic years in recent history, but it’s also the slowest year which seems like it will never end. So why did 2020 feel never-ending despite the same 365-day cycle? Well, as 2020 is winding down, let’s dig into the philosophy behind the ‘bats in the belfry’ year that is 2020, and why it felt so unconventionally long.
To start, the idea of la durée — a French philosophical idea by Henri Bergson translating to “duration” — will help people get a better understanding of why time felt so everlasting during the pandemic. Bergson’s argument consisted of two faces: the first being ‘objective time’ or the time of watches, calendars and train timetables; and the second, la durée, being the ‘lived time’ or the time of the inner subjective experience. In other words, this is time felt, lived and acted.
The central idea was that objective time was far more useful than la durée, but this was and is not always the case. The stretch of time between 1 and 2 p.m. is the same as that at 9 and 10 p.m.; however, la durée states that objective time can change based on how that time was spent. The saying “time flies when you’re having fun,” as cliché as it may seem, is quite true. If the first allotment of time is spent doing something tedious like waiting for a doctor’s appointment, while the second one is spent playing a sport or at a party, the second one will go by faster (for most people). Despite the two different hours being the same in terms of objective time, the two activities bring different enjoyment levels and therefore feel very different.
Regarding the pandemic, it moves beyond the fact that time slowed for lockdown in the spring and returned to somewhat normalcy for the almost restriction-free summer. The pandemic has distorted people’s memory of the past and the future looking ahead in ways that “objective time” becomes too vague to capture.
So many historic things have gone on this year and unfortunately, people are getting blinded by it all because of the pandemic. Perception of when things like the protests for Black Lives Matter or the wildfires in Australia occurred is distorted, thanks to la durée. The present moment is also not helping people plan for the future. Many people are thinking about when they will get to go back to school with no mask, when their next vacation will be or when they will get to see their family next. Without signposts in objective time, we feel that time passes but because nothing ‘happens’ it passes more slowly and we feel stuck in the present.
If we knew for certain that life would return to normal in a relatively short timetable, la durée would speed up. But because of the unpredictability of this virus, people have no clue about the future, and their views of the recent past get blurred too. Everyone became so focused on this virus that it made for constant paranoia and that makes for time going by so haltingly.
In the year of the pandemic — 365 days in a year, 24 hours in a day and 60 minutes in an hour — have all become irrelevant pieces of one’s imagination. While those are completely real quantitative elements of time as everyone knows, the durée took over. If you leave here believing in la durée, it is safe to say that this pandemic has been and continues to expose people to the fundamental nature of time. Those statistics of time according to objective time are just numbers on paper, but if you get caught up enough on the little things, the traditional idea of time disappears altogether.