Time: Quality or Quantity?

For my entire life, I have thought of time—for the most part—as numbers and phrases used to denote the passage of time. However, as we discussed the different facets of it this semester, I begun to realize that accounts of time need not be numerical. While it is important to use these standard, synchronized time markers, time’s meaning in life extends far beyond measurements. Because of this, I have come to understand time as something that centers around quality rather than quantity.

As we touched on in the last class, life’s phases can be marked by things far different from age ranges. We tend to distinguish our phases of life based on what we were doing at the time; a teen mother may think of her 16th year as the year she was pregnant, while another woman could do the same with her 40th year. We do not rely on units of time and measurements to denote distinct phases of our lives, but rather, we turn to the things that were important to us at the time. Whether big or small, we often use emotions, events, people, etc., to describe where we are in life.

Thinking about this helps me to see that our perceptions of time do not focus on its numerical value. If four years pass and nothing eventful or meaningful happens in that time, it will not be remembered the same way as four years full of marriage, death, new jobs, etc. This class has shown me that we really care more about what happens within a given amount of time and less about the amount of time that was given. A “good time” in one’s life may be a single week in which they went on vacation with friends and enjoyed themselves, or a “good time” could be a couple’s first year together. A “bad time” could be a day where nothing was going right, or it could be the years following the death of a loved one. We do not usually remember life phases and moments as they are measured numerically, but rather, we think about the quality of that moment in our life.

Another signifier of this, to me, is the fact that people can forget memories and repress entire phases of their lives. People who have lived through traumatic events repress these terrible moments in or phases their life. Events deemed unmemorable get thrown out of our heads. Though the same quantitative markers were used for these amounts of time, they disappear from our memory. The sole fact that the time was passing and was being measured means nothing here; it is about what happened during this time that matters. The quality of the content of this phase of life determines whether or not it should be recorded in our brains, not the mere existence of the moment.

This class has allowed me to take all of my existing notions of time’s construct and throw them out the window. I have gotten the opportunity to reevaluate how I understand time and I have begun to see it in a less rigid, more valuable way. Coming into the course, I would have thought time was simply our numerical record of its passage. In response to the question “What is time?”, at this point, I revert back to Augustine from the beginning of the semester. I now see time as he did, namely as the way in which humans perceive its passage, but through a bit of a different lens. I believe our perception of time does not rely on the time markers that we use to perceive it, but on our perception of the nature of the events that took place at a given time. “Quality over quantity” is a cliche that is often used when talking about time, but I had never thought it would be the most important aspect of my understanding of time. We “make the most” of our time; we distinguish our life phases using quality; we determine its value based on quality. Now, I see: time is qualitative in every sense.