Opinion | The pandemic is stealing our time, let’s get it back

By Julia Kreutzer, Senior Staff Columnist

March was arguably the longest month of my life — midterms, spring break, a global pandemic. You know, the works. While many can agree that March was seemingly never-ending, what the hell happened to the rest of our year?

A study by Ruth Ogden, a psychologist at Liverpool John Moores University in England, found that I’m not the only one who felt this way. In fact, a whopping 80% of respondents felt disoriented in their perception of time during lockdown as opposed to their normal routines. Time seemed to pass faster to younger individuals who were more socially fulfilled, explaining how college-aged individuals, like myself, who were able to maintain social interactions via social media or FaceTime are now shocked by fall’s seemingly sudden arrival.

The pandemic has dramatically altered our lives — the way we interact with each other, where we spend our days, how we allocate our resources and now, how we perceive time. Particularly in a college setting, holding on to “the best four years of our lives” is more challenging than ever. In order to take back our months, weeks, days and hours, we can commit to making simple, yet impactful changes that make our time cherishable.

This bizarre trainwreck of a year has been defined by two opposing conditions — chaos and monotony. These two radically different states of being have had equally unique impacts on our perception of time. The immense stress of March impacted our prospective experience of time, meaning the present day or hour feels longer and longer. The dullness and banality of the ensuing lockdown changed the way we perceive time retrospectively, referring to how fast or slow a past period of time went by. Claudia Hammond, author and radio presenter for the BBC, explained this plainly.

“During lockdown, those isolated from friends, family and work have had long days to fill,” Hammond wrote. “People have found all sorts of inventive ways to pass the time — baking bread, planting seeds, creating video call quizzes — but inevitably when you spend every day and every evening at home, the days begin to feel a little similar.”

It’s a frustrating concept — days drag and Zoom classes feel endless, but by Friday night, the week feels like it has gotten away from you with nothing to show for it. Now we arrive at September, summer’s conclusion, having spent much of our time binging Netflix or on TikTok trying to fill our unbearably empty days.

This pandemic will be present for an indefinite amount of time, yet it has already managed to radically shift the things we considered permanent fixtures in our world — interpersonal connection, empathetic norms and, yes, time. In order to preserve these facets of our world that we hold dear, we can adopt similar practices to make our moments count.

The term flashbulb memory refers to our perception of an incredibly impactful event — consider how many people vividly remember the events of 9/11 but not Sept. 10, 2001. This is the reason that we will likely never forget where we were when we opened the email that our spring 2020 semester would move to a virtual learning medium.

While most research into flashbulb memories surrounds traumatic events, psychologists Amanda Kraha and Adriel Boals of Indiana University East and the University of North Texas, respectively, found this same phenomenon can occur with positive events.

Our ability to track these flashbulb moments — both the positive and negative — will allow us to remember this uncertain moment in our lives accurately. Engaging with work to create more flashbulb moments is imperative.

I’ll always remember March 13, but I will also be able to cherish the first play in which I was virtually involved and moving into my first off-campus apartment. I’ll remember my 20th birthday. I’ll remember completing my first independent research project. I’ll remember the milestones — so we must commit to make more of them.

Achieving a life-altering or noteworthy event every day is near impossible — and certainly even more challenging to accomplish from our homes. But working toward these moments by auditioning, applying, studying and engaging with other opportunities is the way to start.

The key to maintaining our perception of retrospective time is to radically interrupt the uniformity of our days. This doesn’t mean making every day a flashbulb memory, but aiming to do one stand-out thing a day. Watch a new movie, FaceTime a friend, cook an extravagant dinner, get outside, go for a drive or try takeout from that new restaurant you’ve been eyeing. Aim for one new memory each and every day.

Time is moving faster than ever — let’s get on the train with it. 

Julia writes primarily about politics and social issues. Write to Julia at [email protected].