The Nature of Time OR – "What does a minute really mean nowadays?"

The Beeb does period drama sublimely

Having read “Pride and Prejudice” yet again (awright it is shite – it offends my modernist feminist bones and makes me puke that bold brave women were nothing if they didn’t have the stamp of a man on them), I’ve spent my Saturday night watching Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. Panted a bit over Firth and his wet shirt scene – and felt the exquisite pain of consummation delayed…

Couldn’t be further from the 21st Century. Or even my own earlier 20th Century experience.

What a slow world the P&P world was. Major panics over virtue despoiled were managed by pony – and that wouldn’t be express. Passion and sexual desire were ignited and kept on the slow burner of imagination… Nae smartphone for them. Nae texts and emails and video footage of an intimate nature (wonder what Tulisa would have made of all that? DO NOT – FFS Follow THAT link IF YOU HAVE NO DESIRE TO VIEW PORN).

8 months could pass between hearings and sightings of the loved one. The slow torture of embroidery and church and familial familiarity… the drip drip drip of time. The not-knowing-ness of it all. A person could die (just remember the rudimentary nature of medicine!) and it would be months before you would know.

Poor old Emily Dickinson inhabited just such a world. George Elliot (but there was a goer!) too. The Brontes – most specially in Jane Eyre – lived and breathed the delayed gratification and slow life stuff.

The advent of improved postage and then the phone moved things on a bit. But not so much.

Then came the 90s and universally available computers and the www. and mobile phones.

At 44 I have the privilege of straddling the communication eras.

Born in 1967. Enjoying the wunderkind world of the 1970s – with my flares and Knievel bike stunts (yes, yes, my dear reader I owned that ramp and cruised high over those wee bodies ranged as a dare against the disaster of chopper failure and ramp disintegration)  and trim phones. Knowing that trauma and pain and tears accompanied a  knock on the door from a neighbour with a party line phone anytime after 10pm.

Then mastering a second hand and monstrous type-writer in 1985.

Finally managing academia in the 80s with Amstrad and a word processor and MSDos.

It was the Tiny PC which opened up the world to me in 1995.

Splashing the public sector cash on a mobile in 1997.

But still carefully speaking my dictation into my little machine (what happened to them??) for the typists in 2000.

My impatience has increased. My Blackberry vigilance verges on the neurotic and must constitute mobile phone rage. Reply reply reply I am screaming internally whenever the response takes more than 20 minutes.

Of course – in the private sphere – this equates to nano-speed relationships. I watch my middle son. A glorious beautiful 15 year old. Articulate. Sensitive. Computer savvy. Popular. Physically model-like with his stunning face and slim muscular 6 foot 4″ frame. He posts his status on Facebook – and instantly has 146 likes. Female comments invite him into a virtual world of gratification. He doesn’t need to sweat the am I acceptable/ am I enough shite that accompanied teenage years pre-2010… He knows. And if he wants to chat to the one he winked at this morning then all he needs to do is tap the electronic medium…

Slow burn versus fast and furious flare.

Pigeon post and Pony Express versus BBM.

What have we lost?

What have we gained?

For we have gained some. Surely. 

Answers in your comments – please….

5 thoughts on “The Nature of Time OR – "What does a minute really mean nowadays?"

  1. A really thought-provoking post, which I've read a couple of times before commenting. I'm speaking from the slow side of the spectrum: no FB, no smartphone or even texting and my PAYG mobile is definitely emergency use only, but I do use email a lot and I blog and use internet forums.

    The thing that worries me most is our vulnerability if we allow too much of our private lives into the public domain. Hence no social networking for me and even my blogging is anonymous and I'm an experienced and reasonably intelligent adult.

    The potential harm to younger and less experienced people, who post without thought, not realising that what they post may come back to haunt them is the big downside of this ability to connect instantly.

  2. I love delayed gratification in fiction, the slow build, the painful misunderstandings (can still have these in the mobile age but not so likely) the ultimately satisfying climax.

    But we have gained too and what we have gained is:

    we all now have access to the means of communication.

    When I was an activist in the late 70s/80s we had to hand crank our inky clumsy looking leaflets off an old printer to try to get the message of our causes out there.

    The power of the state felt far more powerful and pervasive than it does today. And I think that is because with www, with Facebook, with Twitter we can all challenge ideas out there, we can expose untruths, we can run campaigns – in short we can share information freely and easily. This is very liberating.

    So I guess on balance I come down on the side of speed and accessibility.

    And btw I doubt that Henry James would get published today. Now he is a slow burn!

  3. I think the mind adjusts to make the world fit it's needs.

    The courter needs suspense, uncertainty, etc and the courtee needs him to act in response to those pressures…they'll make it happen.

    I can tell you from experience that the power of the silent treatment expands exponentially with the technology.

    On the other hand…one of my closest friends lives in Lancashire and we can talk every day as if he was across the hall in the office.

    And then there's the blogs and their delightful bloggers…:)

  4. “Why do you crunch boiled sweets so that they disappear within a minute” I asked a travelling companion. “Instant gratification” he replied.

    As you say, we live in an age where everything is 'now' and if it's not then we tend not to cope.

    So far as instant communication is concerned I sometimes think that it's not so much a question of what we have lost and gained (because the pluses and minuses are often very much confused one with another) but what we lose because of the instant gratification factor. And what we lose is the anticipation. So we seek more instant gratification to fill the void.

    None of this, however, solves the problem of the first part of your post relating to the satisfaction of human physical desire when it is personal to ones self.

  5. Crikey. Too many thoughts provoked after reading this! I have to reflect a bit more before commenting *properly*. Just wanted to say, though, that this was a fantastic post.

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