Forward to the past

When traveling from the US to Australia, an entire day disappears. On this trip, it was a Monday. Generally, flights depart the US in the late evening and, anywhere from about 15 to 22 hours later, touch down in the land of Oz. My plane left Houston on Sunday evening around half past eight and, after 17 and a half hours, deposited me in Sydney on Tuesday just after seven in the morning.

The first time or two that you make the trip, it’s quite discombobulating. Even more surreal is the trip home where, nearly every time, you arrive before you leave. For instance, my return flight leaves Sydney on Wednesday morning just after 11 and arrives in Houston an hour earlier the same day. Lose a day going over, gain a day going back.

The secret to beating the jet lag, if there is one, is to sleep as much as possible during the second half of each flight. Because of the tailwinds, flying east normally takes less time than going west. It translates to about a two hour difference in flight duration between most points in the US and Australia.

It’s got me thinking about how human beings conceptualize time. Time is culturally dependent, understood as linear in some places and fluid in others. It’s a non-renewable resource and an input of production. Like Adam Smith’s water-diamond paradox illustrates, our perception of time’s value fluctuates wildly. At some points, time is priceless while at others we look to waste, or even kill, it. We know time passes and we’ve created both simple and complex ways to mark and measure it but, unlike every other variable from speed to mass, we have no way to objectively alter it. Time is the only true constant in our universe.

I’m still not sure what I’m doing with the gift of time I’ve been given. Good news is that I have the next 15 hours to noodle on it.

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