Is it Saturday? Time and the pandemic

The concept of time seems to be lost in the black hole of lockdown. Somebody said to me this morning on the phone, ‘Is it Saturday?’. One day rolls into another. With no imposed routine, e.g work, we are left to fall on ourselves to set our own boundaries between night and day, work and play and how we alternate between being social beings and individuals, all within the confines our own four walls.

Some are struggling to draw invisible walls of division within the bricks and mortar of what they call ‘home’. Others, like me, are enjoying the autonomy within our own homes to live as we determine (within reason) without any outside demands. I read on social media about how people are saving money by not having to go to weddings, stag parties and other celebrations which involve spending on travel, accommodation and gifts.

In my case, I am enjoying the time saved by not having to travel to places that I would normally visit. Online church service via Zoom on Sunday leaves me feeling more refreshed because I can finish my worship and seamlessly pick up my newspaper without the frustrating negotiating of reduced Sunday travel services or, even worse, rail works which means having to spend more time on crowded buses.

In comparison, my enjoyment of the time afforded by the Pandemic is trite compared to those who live by it along ‘life and death’ dictates.

The international Chinese artist, Ai Wei Wei, has written a magnificent piece in The Atlantic about time:

A nurse leaves a bedside, and a few days later the patient’s temperature drops and he no longer needs a ventilator. Then comes a tingling in her throat; her temperature rises, and she becomes obsessively focused on the length of her life. She remeasures her connections with her family and her society. Elsewhere in time, the politician performs his social role in the manner of a careening race car that strains to hold its balance around a curve without tipping over or crashing.

For so many others, there is no longer a something-to-do-next. Toss expectations into the memory bank! The distinction between this time and that time begins to blur. Life can go on without promises or fulfillment of duties. People who have lost their jobs have lost honor and vexation at once.

Time may seem timeless without external events to demarcate our hours. Getting up early and going to work marked the start of our mornings. Coming back after work marked a division between work and home. This division was the philosophical basis for making us rethink our work and life balance. For some, this has gone. For some, who are suffering from the pandemic, time is something that they want to whizz past so that they can reach a time when they feel better. For those who don’t make it, time has stopped still. For people like me, time has become a precious commodity in which to do all those things in midlife which I have not had the time to do.

The eminent theorist of Globalization, David Harvey, used time in his definition of it. He became one of the first theorists to link globalization with fundamental changes in our experiences of time and space. Harvey coined the term “time–space compression” to refer to the way the acceleration of economic activities leads to the destruction of spatial barriers and distances. Read more here.

The destruction of time-space is happening within our own homes now and isn’t just about the fast transfer of capital between countries and banking institutions. As we watch international news channels on our TV boxes, we see how the virus is affecting others in places that we will never visit. Situated in different time zones but we are all in the same position.

Time has now become a precious commodity. Time is running out on doing something constructive about climate change or racism. Time isn’t waiting for us. The philosophical divide isn’t about the work-life balance anymore. It’s about how we use our time to make things better.


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