After DNA and quantum mechanics, the third great insight of 20th century science was that time is relative to space. When you are depends on where you are. Time really does move slower in some places, and faster in others. There is no universal clock. In some special places, such as inside black holes, it simply stops. It sounds weird, but that’s physics for you.
Relativity, as this is known, also reflects the human experience of time, but for different reasons. “Time passes slowly up here in the mountains,” sang Bob Dylan. “Time passes slowly when you’re lost in a dream.”
Time also passes slowly in the Arctic Ocean, off the northern coast of Norway, when you are floating on a small boat under the bright evening sun, which is where the National Post on Monday reached Kjell Ove Hveding, a retired businessman who is actively working to abolish time in his hometown of Sommaroy, a little fishing village of 300 souls.
“It is perfect. It is life,” he said of his pleasure cruise in an inflatable with a dozen other people. Technically, it was after 9 p.m. local time, but he said the vibe was timeless.
Time, and the regimes by which we humans enforce it, tends to get people really riled up. Canadians kvetch like clockwork twice a year when the clocks change. Earlier this year, after acrimonious debate, the European Union voted to abolish daylight saving time starting in 2021, part of a broader harmonization initiative driven mainly by concerns about efficiency in industry and financial markets.
These goals are not universally shared. The best known indicator of the passage of time in human life — daily sunrise and sunset — does not mean much north of the Arctic circle. Up there, light and dark are seasonal pattens, not daily ones.
“We think it’s quite funny,” Hveding said. “For us it is just crazy.”
So Hveding has gone to his local member of parliament with a petition that Sommaroy abolish time altogether. Not just daylight saving time , but time in general, as a system of organizing events.
Stores will open when the staff is there, and close at other times. Schools will be flexible. Deadlines will be negotiable. Restaurant reservations will be tricky to manage, but tourists will be encouraged to move at their own pace. Importantly, there will be no clocks. Already, a poignant tribute of abandoned watches has spontaneously appeared on the railing of a local bridge.
There is a feel-good, self-help aspect to his campaign. If time is relative to the observer, then changing your perspective will change your experience of time. He understands that planes and trains have to leave at an appointed hour. He is more concerned with the schedules people impose on themselves.
“When you are finished with work, please, just put the watch away,” he said. “Don’t let the clock lead us.”
After 35 years in the hotel business, Hveding said he had met people whose lives were rushed and regimented, so he “decided to take time back and work with people to make their day better.”
His goal is to humanize time, to adapt it to human needs, rather than the other way around. He hopes it fosters a way of living in which people take baths at unusual times, or play sports at night, or eat a meal spontaneously when the mood strikes. He said he has got a “marvellous reaction” in the rest of Norway.
Just as hygge was a hot Scandinavian trend for housewares and lifestyle publishing, with its focus on charming coziness, the end of time seems inspiring in a similar way. It needs a name, though. Atemporality is accurate but technical and arguably charmless.
In his 1992 book Einstein’s Dreams, Alan Lightman poetically recounts an imaginary series of dreams about time experienced by a young German patent clerk on the brink of a major new discovery about time. In one of them, he contrasts mechanical time with body time. “The first is as rigid and metallic as a massive pendulum of iron that swings back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The second squirms and wriggles like a bluefish in a bay. The first is unyielding, predetermined. The second makes up its mind as it goes along.”
Lightman extends this contrast to people. Some people do not believe in mechanical time, he wrote. They wear watches as jewellery. They eat when they are hungry, and go to work when they get up.
“Then there are those who think their bodies don’t exist,” Lightman wrote. “They live by mechanical time…. When their stomach growls, they look at their watch to see if it is time to eat.”
His point was that both these visions of time can work, but only separately. Together, they clash and cause despair. “Each time is true, but the truths are not the same.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019