With the arrival of the pandemic in mid-March, time suddenly stood still. Was it a Tuesday, maybe a Wednesday...? I’m not sure any more. Days ran into one another and all were now the same, seven days a week including the weekend. In the end, how many of us simply unplugged our alarm clocks? No more kids to be hauled out of bed and taken to school, no more yoga sessions before going to work or taxi drivers waiting at the entrance to the building for those needing to catch a plane. The whole world was about to get the lie-in of a lifetime! With the curtains drawn, it was often our body clocks which kept us in line for the first few days. In other words, what dragged us from our beds at the start of lockdown was often a gentle craving for a cup of tea or coffee.
In 1962, the Frenchman Michel Siffre gave us an impressive demonstration of this “internal body clock” in action during a scientific expedition to the Scarasson chasm in Italy. For two months, this geologist lived dozens of metres underground, cut off from light and from any notion of the day-night cycle. He no longer had any outside stimulus to go by and at the same time every signal he sent to his teams back on the surface when he woke up, ate his meals or went to bed demonstrated that the human body maintains its own tempo. He continued to live based on a cycle of almost 24 hours, although he was not influenced by any key external factors or input.
On the other hand, a person’s perception of time changes significantly when they are cut off from the world. Michel Siffre reported that a few hours could feel like just a fleeting moment for him. And others, an eternity. Exactly like spring 2020, when the hours seemed to drag on endlessly while paradoxically the weeks flew by. We weren’t living in darkness but the uncertainty about the outcome of the lockdown formed a sort of endless tunnel. The absence of events outside the home, of last-minute hitches or appointments planned well in advance also created an impression of endlessness.
It’s time to wear a timepiece on your wrist again
Psychological research has shown that people’s estimation of the amount of time elapsed depends on the number of events they can remember. During this lockdown, without any significant information apart from news of how the pandemic was developing globally, every day seemed just like the last. The days when everyone was constantly racing around, with clocks on each street corner and countless digital displays featuring every imaginable item or electronic device to liven up our breathless, exciting lives now seemed a distant memory.
And so, for the first time in years, I once again felt the need to wear a timepiece on my wrist.
Text: Frédéric Martin-Bernard
Photos credits: Mohammad Metri sur Unsplash