Novelist, cultural commentator, memoirist, and historian Eva Hoffman examines our ever-changing perception of time in this inspired addition to the BIG IDEAS/small books series
Time has always been the great given, the element that establishes the governing facts of human fate that cannot be circumvented, deconstructed, or wished away. But these days we are tampering with time in ways that affect how we live, the textures of our experience, and our very sense of what it is to be human. What is the nature of time in our time? Why is it that even as we live longer than ever before, we feel that we have ever less of this basic good? What effects do the hyperfast technologies--computers, video games, instant communications--have on our inner lives and even our bodies? And as we examine biology and mind on evermore microscopic levels, what are we learning about the process and parameters of human time? Hoffman regards our relationship to time--from jet lag to aging, sleep to cryogenic freezing--in this broad, eye-opening meditation on life's essential medium and its contemporary challenges.
Time may be life's implacable constant, but it has undergone drastic and troubling revision in the modern age, argues this penetrating essay. Novelist and historian Hoffman (Lost in Translation) analyzes the simultaneous surfeit and famine of time that faces contemporary society. Our lives, she argues, have grown longer, but we cram ever more work and activity into each multitasking moment. Meanwhile, she contends, technology has chopped up the flow of time into a succession of disjointed nanoseconds, while banishing the natural rhythms of diurnal and seasonal time and depositing us in a frenetic 24/7. Hoffman places the derangement of time at the root of many of modernity's discontents: it underlies the ethos of conspicuous exertion that tyrannizes our work lives, she writes, and perhaps induces our growing epidemic of attention deficit disorder, whose symptoms mimic the pattern of contemporary digital time. Hoffman's exploration ranges lucidly across neuroscience, psychoanalysis and modernist literature to plumb time's mysteries. Her approach is smart and informed, but also pensive and a bit melancholy, wary of what's lost in trying to manage and optimize time; even time's ravages of decay and death, she warns, are inextricably tied up with the meaning of life.