Every night before dinner my family raises our glasses (of wine, of course) and toasts to day 9,847 of quarantine. Or maybe it's 1,855. Or perhaps 631,981. Based on all the memes and jokes I'm seeing on social media, we're not the only ones who have lost track of the days.
From cracks about living through a real-life version of Groundhog Day to quips about March lasting years and April about three minutes, quarantine seems to have messed with everyone's sense of time. This strange dilation and contraction of our weeks feels weird, but it's not unexpected. It's just what science predicts would happen in the current crisis.
Why childhood summers (and March) stretched on forever....
To understand why that is, consider our normal experience of time. Even without a pandemic, the steady ticking of the clock doesn't match our subjective sense of time. Childhood summers lasted approximately one lazy decade, but as anyone middle aged or beyond can tell you, time feels like it speeds up as you age.
This phenomenon has a simple cause, according to science. The more new and unexpected things we experience, the more memories we form. And the more memories we have of a time, the longer a period feels to us. That's why your childhood and teen years, which are packed with new experiences, take up so much mental real estate, while five years in mid-life seems to accordion down to one endless similar day.
Tuesday is full of novelty worth remembering when you're five years old (or on vacation). When you're 45, it's just another day at the office and gets filed away with every other Tuesday.
Apply this logic to quarantine and you can see why your social media feeds are full of cracks about an endless March and a three second April. At the start of the pandemic, everything happening was new. Every day was full of terrifying developments and jolting disruptions to our routines. And because everything was new, time reverted to how it felt when you were a child - days turned endless, weeks passed at a glacial pace. (Here are tips from a couple of experts on how to cope if you're still in this phase.)
... and April passed in a flash.
But then, as humans do, many of us started to get used to staying home all the time. We became experts in epidemiological terms. We learned to be Zoom pros. All our pants with buttons got buried under our new rota of PJs and sweats. At our own individual paces, our days fell back into some kind of rhythm.
In short we were back in a routine, which always speeds time up. But our new routine almost entirely lacks novelty. Every day was just like the last, making our lives in April a perfect storm of all the factors that cause time to fly.
So dear business owner, if you feel your calendar has been playing tricks on you and the weeks are stretching and compressing like you're in a hall of fun house mirrors, you aren't crazy. This time weirdness is a natural result of the strange times we find ourselves in. That's at least one less thing you can worry about.