Time Warps?

We have been hearing for years, nay decades, that one of the most distinctive features of our time is its rapid pace of life. Events, it seems, move at warp speed in our time, compared to the slower, more leisurely flow of life enjoyed by our grandparents and great-grandparents. And no doubt our grandparents believed the frantic pace of life was what distinguished their heydays from the slow-moving “horse-and-buggy” days of their forebears.

But is that true? Does the pace of life really accelerate from one generation to the next? As our state Legislature is about to enter its 12th year of deliberation over what constitutes an “adequate education,” consider the following:

New Hampshire used to hold presidential primary campaigns in about 10 weeks. Now they take two years. How does that reflect a world in which everything moves faster?

In his Boston Globe days, wisecracking columnist Mike Barnicle used to delight in printing diatribes about New Hampshire. Granite Staters are so slow, he claimed, “it takes them two hours to watch ‘60 Minutes.’”

Well, that might explain why those primary campaigns take so long. But by Barnicle’s measure, the whole country is slow. How else would you explain the fact that it now takes us nearly four hours to watch a 60-minute football game? Or that devoted Patriots fans throughout New England may listen for three hours to what, in a previous era, might have been a 15-minute pre-game show?

Or take New Hampshire’s famous Ten-Year Plan for highway construction, widening and repairs. When first adopted, the Ten-Year Plan was expected to take ten years to fulfill. Then it got stretched out to 12 or 15 or 20 years. According to the latest estimate, projects currently on the Ten -Year Plan will take 35 years to complete. Time marches on.

Go out to MerchantsAuto.com Stadium in Manchester for a New Hampshire Fisher Cats baseball game this spring. Chances are whoever sings the national anthem will stretch it out to come as close as possible to making literal his or her proverbial “15 minutes of fame.” “The Star-Spangled Banner” is often sung so slowly, dragging out each syllable, that the prospect of finishing it before “the dawn’s early light” often seems depressingly remote. And the games themselves, in New Hampshire as elsewhere, take longer than ever. A 3-2, nine-inning game used to be played in two to two-and-a-half hours. Now it usually takes three hours or longer.

And then, of course, there is Christmas, which has devolved into the “holiday season.” It used to last about a month, from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day. Now the “holiday” hype begins by Columbus Day, with early sightings of holiday shopping displays occurring before the Labor Day weekend. Office holiday parties are often held before Pearl Harbor Day on December 7, by which time your favorite radio station is in about its third full of week of “holiday” music: “Jingle Bells,” “Silver Bells,” “Frosty the Snowman” and that heartwarming “holiday” classic, “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.”

Alas, poor Grandma. She keeps getting run over by that reindeer earlier and earlier each year. Perhaps she is not used to the faster pace of life in today’s world, when it takes us three to four months to observe a holiday season that lasted all of three to four weeks when Grandma was a girl.

But it will all be over by midnight on the 25th. No more “Silent Night” or even “Jingle Bells” o’er the airwaves. We’ll hear no more of the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” Some things really do move faster in our modern “holiday” world that keeps us speeding along — right past Christmas. NH

Manchester writer Jack Kenny observes the swift pace of life from a asynchronous time slot he has chosen somewhere during the 1964 summer of the Goldwater presidential campaign.