deep time and the shape of things to come

I find myself thinking about time a lot these days.  I think a lot about what we might call shallow time, the day to day, week to week time that many of us use to order our lives.  So for instance, most days I will look at my calendar for the day to follow and see what awaits me.  I think about what I want to do versus what I have committed myself to do, and I try and reconcile those two things.

From this shallow time perspective, some days are harder than others, because some days, I have committed more of my time than I have on other days.  And such is the way of the world.

But I don’t want to spend any more time talking about shallow time here.  Discussions of shallow time get into principles of time management and other things that, while useful, are not where I would like to focus.

Rather, I have a different question in mind.  A wider question.  A deeper question, as hinted at in the title.  When we look out at the world, what do we see when we look at things from the perspective of deep time.

And this, I think, is an even harder thing to do, but it is a necessary thing to do in the world of today.  So what do I mean by deep time.  I don’t mean anything particularly deep, if you’ll forgive the pun.

The science fiction fan in me might say, deep time is what comes from considering the world from the point of view of an immortal living amongst us.

The university middle manager, which is where I first started diving into this question in some of its details, might say, deep time is asking the question, where will my university, and the university sector in general, and perhaps education in general, be 100 years from now, and how does that affect what we do now.

We are actually constantly being bombarded by this question, and I think that our reaction to this bombardment is one reason why we don’t think about it often enough.

Consider climate change.  The way we live today is fundamentally changing our world.  We read that in 50 year or 100 years, sea levels will have risen, and I believe that we don’t know how to process this information.  We don’t often ask, what does this mean specifically for my children and their children and their children, but perhaps this is the only reasonable perspective place to have this discussion.

So how do we change how we as people view events and processes that last far longer than a single human lifetime, much less longer than a standard human attention span.

I think the only reasonable answer comes down to education and to being willing to develop an understand of the difference between me as I am and me as I want to be and me as I see myself.  And this gets back to an earlier point, about the shape of universities in the world to come.  I think this has to become a fundamental part of our mission.

Looking back on what I’ve just written, I’m not sure the answer I’ve given matches the question I’ve asked.  But I do think it’s the best answer I can give, at least at present.  Unless of course the nefarious head of a transnational SPECTRE-like organization reads this and decides to take the organization in a different direction, but I think the chances of that are slim.

~ by Jim Anderson on 17 March 2019.

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