Going Abroad, without Instagram

Josh Li - 3A Mechanical
Posted on: November 26, 2017

Convincing someone who loves to travel to leave the country is relatively trivial. Those who have already hit the road generally have a hunger for exploration, a desire to see the world and/or present it on their Instagram accounts.

I don’t even have Snapchat yet.

I do love new experiences and the fascinating left sidedness of British culture, a place that’s always on time and incredibly polite.  As much as adventure calls, embarking on this exchange was still expensive and time consuming. I couldn’t justify it as just an opportunity to see something new and take pictures, I justified it as an opportunity to slow down time.

Here is a quote from a book called Moonwalking with Einstein, it’s a book about memory.

“Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorable into the next – and disappear. That’s why it’s so important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.”

This quote deals with retrospective time judgements, estimating and perceiving time after something happens. Remember the early days of your childhood, when the end of summer actually felt like two months? As children each day brings new memories, something to remember it by. As we grow up this slowly stops being the case. High school went by a lot faster than elementary; university is flying when our lectures blend together week by week, semester by semester. Of course, this effect could be mitigated by changing routine (but your timetable is fixed) or creating new memories (but you’re too busy with school).

Those working in the corporate world will continue to experience all this, a dedicated employee would tell you how fast their twenties seem to have flown by. Its part of the daunting truth that time speeds up as you get older.

Even more confusing is that although looking back at time it moves quickly, the moment by moment experiencing of time is completely different. During boring, monotonous work the office clock (or the lecture clock) will tick very slowly. In the field of time perception, this is coined the holiday paradox, it has to do with the different process we use to judge time in the moment (prospective) and to estimate how much time has passed (retrospective).

Prospective (in the moment) time perception emphasizes attention and engagement. When you’re bored and not engaged, time still feels slow. Yet when you’re on holiday each moment actually goes by very quickly. On the road all your routines are gone and you’re totally engaged with your new life without any attention to your old markers of time (like having lunch or the end of school). Time just “happens” without you noticing it. Then soon enough the whole day is gone and the next day might still be different than this one, so you still don’t know how much time things will take. In the moment, time feels faster on the road and slower in familiar and boring places.

Retrospective time perception is based on memory. If you’re trying to estimate how long something took, you must refer to what you can remember of this past week. If this week was full of new and exciting things you end up having many anchors in your memory to recall time by “on Tuesday I went to…at lunch I saw…that night I met.” This will make your retrospective judgement of time to seem longer. This is contrary to routine office work or school terms, where each day is not much different from the one before. You don’t make any memories to tell weeks apart, therefore they all blend into one when looking back on them.

So you can make a choice. Between a life where each boring moment drags on and on while time still appears to go by quickly in the long run, and another life where time feels fast in the exciting moments yet looking back it still feels like you’ve lived a long while. To all of those who don’t want to see new things or explore different cultures, that’s fine. I completely understand.

But don’t you want to live a “longer” life?

Considering the alternative is another year of familiar routines and another semester that flies by after you’re done exams, time during these precious years we have just before adulthood are eluding us. Yet we have opportunities to change that. We’re just old enough to be responsible for ourselves yet not too old to be responsible for others. I’d like to call this the Golden Age of traveling, and going on an exchange was one of my best decisions to make my university years seem a little longer. Even though I’m not a fan of taking pictures for Instagram, I’ve taken a lot of experiences for my memory. These experiences have made all of this worthwhile.

Recently a friend came to London for a visit, I remember saying “It seems like forever, what have you been up to?” To which he replied “You’ve only been gone for a couple months Josh, not much has changed.”

A lot has changed I thought, and change is something to remember.