Physicists say that time is a dimension. Even if we understand this intellectually, it's somewhat outside of our ordinary human experiences. Time moves invisible, even as it surrounds us, and shapes every aspect of our days. Now more than ever, we are attuned to time's relentless march than we ever have been through history.
Time has always been a component of human civilization. Agrarian societies knew time as a function of seasons, counted in days divided by nights. Modern societies developed calendars to keep track of the passage of the year. Days of the week broke it down even further; sundials and the introduction of mechanical clocks made time even more divisible. But now we are surrounded by the tick-tock of endless devices that keep track of time, usually by electronic means. Yet one thing hasn't changed. The flow of time is governed most of all by our own perceptions of it. There is no amount of mechanical nor other logical record-keeping that matters so much as how we relate emotionally to the passage of time.
Consider this experiment. Sit quietly for five minutes doing very little, if anything at all. (Tell you what: make it 10 minutes. Five minutes of peace and quiet is now a welcome respite for most of us in the modern world! But I digress…) Sit quietly for 10 minutes, doing very little. The passage of time feels slow, lethargic, for many people even endless. Then try the alternative. The next time you're facing a deadline, say some project, or an appointment you have to make, or a date that you've been looking forward to, 10 minutes feel like a wolf at your heels. Time races forward; it's leaves the world like water evaporating from a hot surface.
Perhaps the physicists are onto something when they say that time is another dimension, but time in fact is really a magician. We know the magician is doing a trick for us, and yet we willingly give ourselves over to the act. It's the same with time. Just as we know that 10 minutes spent sitting quietly takes precisely the same number of seconds as a frantic effort to get that Fed-ex package to the pick-up location before it closes.
Recently, parts of the 1AU production team were working on location in a busy urban setting and we didn't have much time left to get the remaining shots of our day. It's not that they were hard, per se; it's that with limited time available the press to complete each one started to take on a breathlessness borne simply from a growing awareness that there would be no other chance once the day ended. I looked over at Vicky fiddling with a tripod a few feet away, and smiled, fully aware of the pressure suddenly on her shoulders. If you work in media or performance of any kind, this is an ordinary experience. You even come to rely on the buzz as a trusted companion. But as I consider the situation, it's ordinary for anybody doing something with the clock against them. That's most of us. Everyone knows the feeling. Time is the arbiter of all things. And like an arbiter, it's best addressed with a level head, a rational argument, and his sense of humor. Time is not a judge for whom anger or false argument is ever successful.
But lest this all appear as some sort of bleak capitulation, the mature creative person, or ambitious professional, or smart parent juggling multiple schedules of kids and jobs and commutes and getting the laundry done, knows that time is the ultimate tool for focusing the mind. Without a deadline, there's no pressure to pursue quality, because there's little motivation to get something done well before time runs out.