First Person: Time Inflation

Hershel Shanks’s First Person in the July/August 2015 issue of BAR

hershel-shanksSince I penned my last First Person (actually I wrote it on a computer), I had a big birthday (85) which was an occasion for some looking back. One such item was a piece I wrote 35 years ago in a Washington newspaper (the Evening Star) when I was 50 and practicing law (BAR was just a little start-up published out of my law office and not even mentioned in the piece):

Monetary inflation is an overriding concern of almost everyone. Nothing commands more serious analysis in government halls or more space in the media.

Yet another form of inflation, equally insidious, is completely ignored.
I refer to time inflation. A day, a week or a year is simply not worth anywhere near what it used to be.
In a couple of months (which, these days, is likely to pass by almost as quickly as I can write these lines) I will turn 50. I have checked with my friends and contemporaries, people of sufficient age and maturity that their judgment can be trusted, and they agree to a person that in recent years the pace of time has accelerated enormously. There can be no doubt as to the existence of runaway time inflation.

I remember my piano lesson as a child. That hour would go on forever. It seemed like a night and a day. I would begin to yawn part way through and somehow wake up near the end. Recently, I started taking piano lessons again. I have my lesson on Tuesday mornings before work. Hardly have we finished refining a single page when it is time for me to trudge off to the office.

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As a youngster (that word is not used any more), I remember counting the days before my birthday or a weekend trip out-of-town. Each day would plod on endlessly, each part a separate, lengthy segment. Now there is hardly such a thing as anticipation. Before you know it, the long-awaited event is past.

Occasionally I have a fancy expense-account lunch in a downtown restaurant. I recently held out a dollar bill to the hatcheck girl in one of these places and asked for change. She looked at my dollar bill and said, “That is change.” That’s the way I feel about a week now. That is change. I go to work, come home tired, have dinner with my family, read the paper and go to bed—and another week has passed.

Even the years are not what they used to be. When I was a freshman in college, it was beyond my imagination that I would ever be a senior. Seniors were another generation. In any event, I was sure I would be a college student forever. That was my permanent niche in life.

Now I have to think what year it is. Even happy annual events pop up and are here so soon. When we start packing for our week at the beach, it’s that time again. I remembering driving home from the beach last year. It seems like yesterday.

I am absolutely sure I am not 50. But for this time inflation, I would be about 11, at most 37. How do I know? When I crawl into bed every night, I curl up on my side and adjust the pillow exactly the way I did as a boy.

During the day, I sit rather pompously at a pretty large desk, but at night when I curl up with my head on that pillow, I know that I’m the same little boy who grew up in a little town called Sharon, Pennsylvania, and not the lawyer who sits at that desk during the day. Inside, I know I haven’t grown up a bit. I’m no wiser, no surer of myself, no less full of wonder, no less excited by life’s mysteries. So how can I be 50?

It’s the time inflation that’s robbed me of those years. And it’s about time someone did something about it—the president or Congress or someone. At least appoint a commission to study the problem.

If nothing can be done about it, at least recognize its existence: When you see me on the street, please understand that by using any reasonable standard of time, I am not that old.

“First Person: Time Inflation” by Hershel Shanks originally appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

In March 2015, BAR turned 40 years old! Check out the “Celebrate 40 Years of BAR” page to learn how BAR was born and more.


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8 Responses

  1. Sheli Hampl says:

    I am just getting to know your work and magazine, Mr. Shanks, after hearing your interview with Ronald Way, which I thoroughly enjoyed. What a wealth of information you produce with your magazine! I am excited to listen to part 2 of the interview and will be scouring through your articles! Yeah!

  2. Michelle says:

    I’m from D.C., born and raised, but now living in Arizona. I remember The Evening Star with fond memories; as if it was yesterday!

  3. Rob Palmer says:

    I lived with my Mom for many years, quite a bit spent in Washington D.C., where Mom was with a federal court. While with her I remained around 17, and then, on her departure, like the picture of Dorian Grey, overnight I became old. It’s like Mom was holding me there at 17 as her boy. I retired to New England with her and we both remarked on this shortening of time with age.
    Now I’m alone, and without Mom’s help the time speeds by increasingly fast each year. As if on the Titanic, I feel the race to oblivion.

  4. Jim Oppenheimer says:

    Nasty tasks are ones we avoid at any cost. I recently had a wake-up call that stunned me to the core. I have been noticing that people I assumed would last forever — do not last forever. I was just unprepared for the sudden death of a friend at the age of seventy-six. It was completely unanticipated!

    We all need to take steps now to prepare those who will be left behind so that they can best carry on our work.

    I love BAR; I want it continue to offer its erudite, irascible, irreverent, penetrating insights for decades to come. To do that, it needs to be prepared to function if some of its leadership suddenly is no longer able to lead. I trust that a lively effort is being made to assure that it will continue for years to come. There is simply no substitute for the work it does on a regular basis of clarifying issues others barely even know exist.

  5. Christian P.J. Bahnerth PhD (Barney) says:

    I am 81 years of age and have experienced the same symptoms. May be it is because every next year is a smaller part of the whole of your life.

  6. David says:

    Indeed, I have complained about time inflation for many years. People my age understand completely. Younger people look at me quizzically as though I had uttered something like, “Jack Benny.” You know, a totally foreign concept. Perhaps we should be glad we are yet here to study this phenomenon.

  7. Gregory says:

    Glad to know it’s not just me.

  8. Kurt says:

    Rewriting the Script
    Some may compare life to a three-act play. Youthful excitement and education are expected to dominate the first act. The responsibilities of raising a family and the relentless pressure of work set the mood of the second act. For the third act, the actors are encouraged to retire to a chair away from the spotlight and wait dispiritedly for the final curtain to fall.

    However, for various reasons, including remarkable advances in health care and hygiene during the 20th century, the length of time “actors” now spend offstage during the “third act” has increased by up to 25 years. Many are no longer content to be relegated to idle retirement. The swelling ranks of these active older ones are starting to demand that the script be rewritten.

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