Digital technology has radically transformed our sense of time. Analog time lengthens and shortens with the passing of the seasons. It moves in cycles that progress gradually and overlap. The progression of the sun and moon, the tides, the seasons, the years, the progressions of the planets and stars across the sky, the tectonic and geological shifting of the Earth—these are the background of time against which analog life evolved. Now life has its own cycles of time, its growth and decay, its metabolisms and circadian rhythms and gestation periods, and lately, its perception and cognition of change. All of that is the time in which we really live.
The digital imposition of fixed units of time is at odds with natural time. It has imposed a sense of order on life. Human beings have used that order to organize an amazing civilization. But trying to live in that digital time, in spite of our brains and bodies, makes us uncomfortable, anxious, even unhealthy. We give up sleep our body needs for the sake of made-up digital time! It’s just what we have to do to get by sometimes. But that doesn’t mean it’s good for us.
We’re taught by physicists that space and time are really a continuum: space-time. But subjectively, we rarely experience the whole continuum at once. Space and time feel like discrete modes of being to us. That’s why we have two different words for them. But maybe the words created the modes. Maybe there is no discreteness to space and time outside of our conceptual frame. It’s hard to say. Maybe our answer changes over time. Sometimes we need an answer. At other times, let it change. In the world of space, of things, we wrestle for answers. On Shabbat, we can let go of the things and let time do its work.