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Nonlinear and Non-scalable January 17, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in The Daily Grind.

We fancy we understand a lot about time. We know, for instance, that time’s arrow moves only in one direction: irrevocably forward. We comprehend it as continuous and thereby “flowing” as fluids do. Events, beholden to the caprices of time’s flow, may occur earlier or later or even not at all. Most of all, we perceive time as linear: if A then B then C…and so on.

Because human beings are creatures that exist in time, we cope with the constraints it imposes upon us in various ways. In fact, we’ve developed jargon for just this purpose: multi-tasking, parallel tracking, even the notion of “time management” itself. We see ourselves accelerating the course of events (such as loan payments), postponing others (such as meetings), or “time-shifting” the rest (thanks, DVR! ) depending on our priorities or simply what works best for us at the moment. Even simple mathematics imparts a sense that we can bend time to our will: if a task can be performed by one person in seven days, surely getting seven people to work on it together will get it accomplished in one.

Strangely, we cling to these notions despite volumes of evidence to the contrary.

It doesn’t follow, for instance, that by pushing things back (or forward) we can just as easily pick up where we left off.

Leave ten minutes late for work during the morning rush, and you could arrive at the office forty minutes later than usual…or sometimes fifteen minutes early.

Miss your connecting flight by seconds and it can be a full day before the next outbound flight on your itinerary.

Pick a fruit off a tree a ten days earlier days than you ought and it could be ten percent more tart than it usually would be otherwise (if not a hundred percent inedible).

Put in for a job too early and your application is just as likely to be papered over as it is to keep you in the share of mind of whoever’s hiring. Face it: sometimes timing is everything.

Neither is time is time perfectly scalable (mathematics be damned!). Yes, there is such a thing as economies of scale; however, there is also such a thing as diminishing returns. Too many cooks do, in fact, spoil the broth.

We spend one-third of our lives asleep. Wouldn’t we be more productive if we could tap into that well of unused time? Or sleep more efficiently? Maybe. Yet we can’t hope to sleep for 122 days of the year straight just so we can work (or play) nonstop for the balance of 243.

It takes nine months to make a baby. Yet try as we might, a person can’t impregnate nine women in the hope of having a child in one month.

Thus, whether time is indeed linear (as we understand it) or takes some other shape beyond our comprehension is anyone’s guess. In the end, it seems that all we can really say about time is that it does indeed flow in one direction, is non-renewable, and in some cases is entirely inflexible.

Use your time wisely.


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