Why Every Year Seems to Go By Faster

Can you believe it’s 2016 already?

If you feel like time keeps moving faster every year, you’re not alone.

But why does this happen, and what does it really mean?



Here comes that New Year’s ball. Again.


A matter of perspective?

One possible reason that time seems to accelerate is that each new day, month, or year represents an increasingly small fraction of your entire life experience.

Here’s what happens if we plot a person’s current age against the percentage of their life represented by 1 year.

Years as Percent of Age

Compared to later years, the earlier years represent a much larger portion of your life (at the time).

Perhaps we remember time in previous years within the context we experienced them, rather than within the context of our current situation.


Is modern technology to blame?

Modern technology has changed many things about everyday life.

We already know that technology can interfere with your ability to navigate, reduce social skills, and maybe even cause depression.


Is it possible that our perception of time is also being warped by all those screens, instant access, and constant connectedness?

The answer is yes…but not quite how you might think.


In general, the more information your brain processes, the more time seems to have passed.

Research suggests that technology use accelerates the perception of time by about 10 minutes per hour. In other words, heavy technology users will estimate that an hour has passed after only about 50 minutes.

If your experience of time is faster than actual time, that’s the exact opposite of actual time seeming to move faster.


No seriously, can’t we blame modern technology?

We probably can…in a slightly different way.

The actual issue might be a quirk of human memory.


Almost everything that you experience happens within a certain context, and your ability to remember it later is heavily influenced by the context in which you try to remember.

It’s called “encoding specificity” and it’s generally a good thing. It keeps you from constantly getting distracted by thoughts or memories that are irrelevant to your current situation.


Research has found that even small shifts in context can strongly interfere with your memory. For example, simply walking through a doorway from one room to another often causes people to forget what they were doing, or why they were even going into the other room!

If simply walking into a different room can interfere with your memory of what was going on in the other room, just imagine what happens when so many of your experiences take place on different devices and screens.




If encoding specificity is to blame, perhaps time isn’t moving faster after all.

Perhaps we are actually just forgetting all of our experiences and time spent using modern technology. In a different context, those memories might seem to disappear.

And perhaps if you pick up your devices and just do what you normally do, you will actually remember where all that time went after all.


Happy New Year!




Image credits: Dominic Alves, Anthony Quintano, JD Hancock

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