The Time Hack

7 Notes

Final figures and analysis

The year is up and the numbers are crunched.

As the about section explains, the Time Hack was a year-long experiment aimed at exploring whether our perception of time is influenced by our actions.

Throughout the experiment, which I carried out during the whole of 2011, I participated in a new and unusual activity each day in an effort to alter my perception of time. Click here to learn more about the parameters of the project.

Research suggests a person’s perception of how much time has passed between two points and how well memories are recorded onto an individual’s brain are partially dependent on the amount of new experiences that person has during any given day. The Time Hack aimed to explore this idea.

With this in mind, I timed each of the experiences on a stopwatch and pit those recorded times against my estimation of how long I perceived each experience to have lasted for. For a complete list of these activities and a comparison between the times, see this spreadsheet.

Breakdown and final totals

The following information and graphs represent an analysis of the actual times and perceived times of each activity, which I recorded throughout the project.

In total, I engaged in 344 activities throughout the year, which I had never participated in prior to the project, over the course of 365 days. 

Twenty-one days worth of data was compromised and/or lost, which is why there were 344 activities analyzed here as opposed to 365.  

During those 344 days, I spent 305 hours, 13 minutes and 42 seconds (or 18,313 minutes and 42 seconds) engaging in activities I have never before experienced. 

According to the total sum of my perceived times during those 344 days, however, I believed those activities to have lasted for 319 hours, 57 minutes and 11 secondsThis difference in time alludes to the idea that I experienced an extra 14 hours, 43 minutes and 29 seconds during 2011.

Put another way, I squeezed 4.6% more time out of my year through these activities. And put yet another way, that’s about 2 minutes and 34 seconds of new life each day, while engaging in the activities for 53 minutes and 15 seconds on average.

For more charts, figures and analysis, continue reading this post here.

19 Notes

Day 365: Take the polar bear plunge

I spent a hefty chunk of December contemplating a perfect Day 365 of The Time Hack: the final day in the year-long time perception experiment that began January 1, 2011. It had to be big and embody the spirit of the project — a representation of the venture that would sit front-and-center on the site’s homepage for all Internet eternity. 

Skydive? Too expected. Get shot out of a canon? Too difficult to arrange. 

Two nights before the project would end, I sat down with friends and mapped a route across the continental United States. I’d attempt to roll through four U.S. time zones in 24 hours — a feasible task if one doesn’t urinate and drives about 90 mph through the middle of the country. The task seemed a solid, octane-fueled finale.

Hours before I was to hop in a car and skirt westward, however, I realized that capping the project off with such a bang would mark the entire experiment as a 365-day exercise in entertainment. While from the beginning, many of the time hacks ended up being quite funny (e.g., Day 17: Recite the alphabet in public), the project was not entertainment at its core.

It was intended to be a tool.

TRY EVERYTHING
Over in the “About" section, I point to research that suggests that both a person’s perception of how time passes and the sharpness of that person’s memories are dependent, in part, on the number of new experiences he or she has during a given day.

So if new experiences slow a person’s perception of time, The Time Hack was the tool by which I’d attempt to make 2011 the longest year of my life.

But more importantly, it was a tool to demonstrate how one can positively apply scientific data to daily life.

DO MORE
For generations, mothers have told their children not sit around and let life pass them by. The Time Hack was an effort to confront the time-honored adage and demonstrate the science-backed benefits of making the most out of life.

In short: Do more and your perception of life will change for the better.

Get out the house and experience the world first-hand, put yourself in unusual and uncomfortable situations. Go to trapeze school, eat dinner with a homeless person, participate in a Shaman ceremony. Dye your hair green, study finance, travel to a third world country, ride motorcycles, take sword fighting lessons, play football, eat bugs — do it all. Try anything and everything.

But it can also be simpler than that. If you typically walk down 1st Street on the way home from work each day, then tomorrow ride a bicycle down 2nd. 

Why? Because participating in new and dynamic activities could significantly extend your time on this planet — or at least your perception of it. 

DIYTH
And that’s precisely why I wanted to end the project here: jumping into a body of water during winter. It is an experience that shows you, the person reading this right now, the feasibility of doing this project yourself.

I’m really going to miss the Time Hack. It helped make 2011, by far, the best year of my life. From fighting an amateur boxer on day one to training with a former Olympic fencer on day 364, I faced a myriad of life experiences that most are unlikely to ever encounter in one year.

As with any bit of scientific research, however, you take what you’ve learned and move forward with a new perspective on the world. So the Time Hack will live on. Case in point: I write this while researching a trip to Texas, where I hope to join in on my first rodeo.

Thanks for all of your ideas, Time Hack fans, and may you keep the Time Hack spirit truckin’.

Special thanks to science journalist Dave Mosher and interaction designer Liz Danzico for countless hours and even days of help on this project. Additional thanks goes to neurologist and time perception guru David Eagleman for helping to design the project.

[Note: In the coming weeks I’ll sort through my data, show off some highlights and post a link to the project’s complete set.]

For future projects and updates, I can be found on Twitter @mattdanzico.

REMEMBERED DETAILS

  1. I believe I yelled “Day 365” while running toward the the ocean in Coney Island, New York.
  2. I took three steps into the ocean and then dove, falling into the water on my left side.
  3. After my first dive, I jumped up and raised my hands and let out a “whoo”, echoing a passerby who was cheering me on back on land.
  4. I dove in two more times, once to my left (completely submerged) and the second to my right (leaving my head above water).
  5. I ran back up the beach holding my arms over my chest and told the camera “that was an interesting year”.
  6. I first put my hands on my knees out to catch my breath and then sat down with a towel to get warm.

ACTUAL EVENTS

What happened on day 365? Find out here. 

REMEMBERED TIME

I believe from the time I ran down the beach to jump in the ocean to the moment I exited the water was 54 seconds.

ACTUAL TIME

How long did it take? Find out here.

Why don’t videos or images of time appear on this site?

8 Notes

Day 364: Take a fencing lesson

REMEMBERED DETAILS

  1. The man I took a fencing lesson from was named Acky, a longtime fencer who competed in the 2000 Olympics.
  2. During the portion of the lesson that I filmed, I recall Acky showing me three different forms of blocking.
  3. We first form of blocking we went over involved holding the sabre up to block above my head. Acky attempted to hit me six times on the head. Each time I blocked and was directed to hit him atop his head.
  4. Next we went over blocking on my left (his right). He came in with his sabre to hit my left arm. Each of the seven times we did this form of blocking, I stopped him and was directly to hit him on his right arm.
  5. We then went over blocking on my right side. We did this a total of five times.
  6. Following the lessons in blocking, Acky then attempted to hit me from different angles, without letting me know where he was going to try to strike. He came in toward my head first. The following represents the order in which I believe he tried to hit me following his first attempt: left arm, head, left arm, right arm, right arm, head, left arm, left arm, head, right arm, left arm, right arm, left arm.
  7. I then remember battling Acky, winning and being invited to the 2012 Olympics. (Okay, maybe that one didn’t happen.)

ACTUAL EVENTS

What happened on day 364? Find out here. 

REMEMBERED TIME

I believe my fencing lesson at the Fencers Club in New York City lasted 58 minutes and 11 seconds

ACTUAL TIME

How long did it take? Find out here.

Why don’t videos or images of time appear on this site?

9 Notes

Day 363: Silly String a stranger

What was odd about this activity is that my perception of time sped and slowed depending on the individuals I asked to allow me to coat them in Silly String.

A total of four sets of people were approached on a Thursday evening at roughly 10:00pm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The first was a man walking with a woman whom I would assume was his partner. I very awkwardly asked if he’d be willing to allow me to coat him in the aerosol string, citing a “scavenger hunt-like project”. He declined, mentioning various understandable reasons. Any reason one would give to avoid being covered in Silly String by a stranger is understandable, to be honest. But I digress.

During this experiment, I felt my emotions being dictated by the reactions of the people I approached very early on in this experiment. If those I asked laughed and seemed engaged, despite their willingness to be “stringed”, I felt more comfortable and time passed slowly during our exchange. But if they declined without a smile, time slipped by. And this reaction apparently mirrors new research done on the topic of time perception.

According to Annett Schirmer, a researcher in the department of psychology at the National University of Singapore, evidence suggests that “emotions can both speed up and slow down the internal clock”.

Schirmer states: “Speeding up has been observed for to-be-timed emotional stimuli that have the capacity to sustain attention, whereas slowing down has been observed for to-be-timed neutral stimuli that are presented in the context of emotional distractors.”

That’s nerd talk for ‘if something sustains your attention - like a person who reacts positively and shows attention - time will slow. Whereas, awkwardness can make time slip by.’

Schirmer states that research performed in both non-humans and humans points to the idea that bodily arousal affects time perception. In his research, rats injected with a drug that enhances the amount of dopamine produced in the brain treated a “given duration as longer” than rats injected with simple saline. Dopamine, mind you, produces the brain’s feel-good state following stimulants ranging from candy to cocaine. Whereas, rats in the study injected with drugs that block the amount of dopamine production have had the opposite effect.

Schirmer found that in humans “changes in physiological arousal as assessed by self-report” showed similar results.

Whether the amount of dopamine being produced in my brain had anything to do with the reactions of those asked to be stringed, I am not certain. But one thing is for sure - the man who finally allowed me to cover him in the pink aerosol string surely saw increased amounts of dopamine produced in his brain as well. No question there. Silly String is, after all, completely awesome.

Continue reading…

5 Notes

Day 362: Kiss under mistletoe

REMEMBERED TIME

I estimate that setting up the mistletoe and the related smooch itself lasted a total of 2 minutes and 50 seconds.

ACTUAL TIME

How long did it take? Find out here.

Why don’t videos or images of time appear on this site?

8 Notes

Day 361: Create and toss a ‘message in a bottle’

On day 361 of The Time Hack, I threw a message in a bottle into the East River, off the coast of Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Why exactly? Well, if it worked for an 11-year-old… (Story below from the BBC.)

An 11-year-old US boy was stunned to get a reply to his message in a bottle from Portugal’s Azores Islands - via the more surefire medium of email.

Curtis Kipple wrote a letter about himself and his hometown in New York state, and put it in a bottle which was dropped into the Atlantic in March.

The message was found last week by Ana Ponte, 25, from the fishing village of Terceira, on the Azores archipelago.

The fifth-grader’s bottle had travelled 2,600 miles (4,190km).

"My brother and my father wake up earlier today and went to sea to catch a seafood very common here, and found a bottle with a message from a boy Curtis Kipple," said Ms Ponte’s email - written in both English and Portuguese - to Curtis’s school.

Read more of this BBC News story here.

REMEMBERED DETAILS

  1. I recall explaining in the note that I wanted whomever found the bottle to email me at my private email address. 
  2. I explained that I was a journalist and created the bottled note for The Time Hack. I then said that I threw the bottle into off the coast of Brooklyn in New York.
  3. The piece of paper was torn from a graph paper notebook with a green cover. I wrote on both sides of the folded paper “Message in a bottle. Please read!”.
  4. The bottle used in the experiment was a blue Powerade, purchased from a Texaco gas station in New Jersey.
  5. I explained before throwing the bottle from a pier in Greenpoint, Brooklyn that I was throwing the bottle into the East River.
  6. I threw it with my right hand, while leaning over the pier railing. The throw didn’t go off as planned and was at far more of a downward angle then expected. This could have been due to the wind, which was ferocious that night.

ACTUAL EVENTS

What happened on day 361? Find out here. And here.

REMEMBERED TIME

I believe it took 27 minutes and 29 seconds to write and toss a message in a bottle.

ACTUAL TIME

How long did it take? Find out here.

Why don’t videos or images of time appear on this site?

5 Notes

Day 360: Engage in archery

REMEMBERED DETAILS

  1. I believe my sister, who went with me to the archery range, shot 11 arrows. 
  2. She shot one over the building that housed the targets, one over a fence, and the rest below the target where she was aiming.
  3. I shot 12 arrows, one stuck into the wall of the building holding the targets and the rest hit the white area of the target itself.
  4. I switched bows halfway through shooting.
  5. I told my sister “better luck next time”.

ACTUAL EVENTS

What happened on day 360? Find out here. 

REMEMBERED TIME

I believe I engaged in archery for 36 minutes and 37 seconds.

ACTUAL TIME

How long did it take? Find out here.

Why don’t videos or images of time appear on this site?

6 Notes

Day 359: Investigate an abandoned, “haunted” sanitorium

Exploration and curiosity are ingrained in everything that makes us human. The benefits of seeking the unknown have been many and have ranged from discovering new trade routes to swapping secrets on crop irrigation with indigenous populations. And to a certain degree, we are all the ancestors of explorers.

On the plains of Africa, for instance, those who moved to new lands in search of food were sometimes the ones who survived. And in modern times in the US, those who escaped their home countries to come to America to find work were the ones who were prosperous enough to raise a strong family. 

But researchers still do not know precisely where this human sense of curiosity comes from.

Some experts think curiosity is an internal drive, something that makes us explore a dark cave or abandoned tuberculosis sanitarium, in this case. They believe it to be similar to hunger or thirst, an urge we must answer to be healthy and survive. This belief is called the drive theory of curiosity.

Other researchers believe in incongruity theory - the belief that our environment triggers curiosity. These experts believe that individuals only become curious when prompted with an environment or occurence that challenges our sense of the world. Magicians, for instance, play off this curiosity theory. Make a rabbit disappear in a top hat, and wham.. you’ll have hooked your audiences’ attention for hours.

During a trip to my hometown for the holidays, I was compelled to explore an abandoned sanitarium, a complex established in 1903 for those suffering from tuberculosis. It was a trip I had been thinking about making since I was a child, growing up in the region. 

Upon returning from the trip, which was made on Christmas night, my mother informed me that the song “White Christmas” had actually been written by someone who was treated at the sanitarium.

How curious.

Continue reading…

10 Notes

Day 358: Buy and deliver presents to a family in need

Though a 2005 report showed that four out of five Americans believe the holidays to be too materialistic, psychologists have argued that gift giving is an important ritual in maintaining a healthy, balanced lifestyle. But experts claim giving presents is more beneficial for the givers than for the receivers. 

If I don’t let you give me a gift, then I’m not encouraging you to think about me and think about things I like. I am preventing you from experiencing the joy of engaging in all those activities. You do people a disservice by not giving them the gift of giving,” Harvard psychology professor Ellen Langer told The New York Times in 2007.

According to the article, researchers believe that evolution played a large role in why humans give gifts today. 

Men who were the most generous may have had the most reproductive success with women. (Notably, the use of food in exchange for sexual access and grooming has been documented in our closest ape relative, the chimpanzee.) Women who were skilled at giving — be it extra food or a well-fitted pelt — helped sustain the family provider as well as her children.

Further researcher was released in 2008 by the Virginia Commonwealth University showing that the benefits of gift giving may ultimately fall on the shoulders of the giver, not the receiver.

In the VCU report, experts studied the gift giving habits of pet owners, concluding that their gifts stemmed from an effort to make pets happy. Though the research may seem frivolous, the report points to the self-serving nature of gift giving - since, after all, pets are unable to give gifts in return.

For day 358 of The Time Hack, I purchased a Wal-Mart gift card and a book set for a family whose house burned down the night before Christmas Eve. Though the presents were utlimately delivered to a mother and her young daughter, I’m still not sure who benefited the most from the gifts - myself or the family.

Continue reading…

8 Notes

Day 357: Reconstruct an animal skeleton using bones found in owl vomit

Girlfriend: “So I have the perfect present for your sister for Christmas.”

Matt: “Oh?”

GF: “I met a woman who has a passion for finding bones located inside owl vomit and bottling them up in glass vials.”

M: “Wait. What?”

GF: “I should buy it for you - so you could give it to your sister. Essentially, there is a woman who runs a shop here in Greenpoint (Brooklyn) who will go out into the wilderness in search of owl vomit, which she calls owl pellets, and dig through the vomit there were any bones regurgitated in the throw up. She then takes those bones, puts them into cute glass vials and sells them.”

M: “Yep, sounds perfect. She’d love it.”

For day 357 of The Time Hack, I took sea urchin bones found in owl vomit and attempted to reconstruct the animal with the help of sticky tack.

Why not.

REMEMBERED DETAILS

  1. I believe 31 bones were used to recreate the sea urchin.
  2. The majority of each bone was white in color, with a dash of brown around each end.
  3. The ball of gum was green in color and attached to a clear pushpin.
  4. The other vials in the box included a rodent backbone and a bee. The box said there was supposed to be a fourth vial containing the bones of a seahorse. That container was missing.
  5. On the desk, where I was working there was a pair of tweezers, the box in which the bones came, sticky tack and a camera.
  6. I rotated the camera in a counter-clockwise motion around the recreated sea urchin.

ACTUAL EVENTS

What happened on day 357? Find out here. And here.

REMEMBERED TIME

I estimate that it took 37 minutes and 20 seconds to recreate the sea urchin using sticky tack and bones found in owl vomit.

ACTUAL TIME

How long did it take? Find out here.

Why don’t videos or images of time appear on this site?