We all know that times flows at different speeds for different people. And that time doesn’t flow at a constant rate for anybody.

Me, for example, I do things fast. I read fast, think fast, talk fast (except when I remember to slow down). You should see me in the kitchen cooking dinner.

It’s not an ADHD thing—I have no problem with focus, it’s just that I’m sped up.

As a boy I was known far and wide as the kid with absolutely no patience whatsoever. (And a temper that was set off by things being slow, a temper sized as the inverse of my patience.)

Luckily I’ve matured somewhat: I can at least disguise my innate complete lack of patience.

(Side note: as a boy I thought speed was a function of intelligence. I was totally wrong. I know people smarter than I am who aren’t in such a big hurry all the damn time.)

But what I’m thinking about today is a different though related sense of time. I don’t have a good term for it.

It’s the sense of recent history. Where does history end and recent history begin?

It’s different for every person.

For example, if you hear the phrase “the recent history of Europe” do you include the fall of the Berlin Wall? Prague Spring? Do you go as far back as World War II? World War I? Napoleon? The Renaissance?

What does “recent history” mean?

To extend the example: if someone says, “Europeans are more thoughtful and less quick to wage war than Americans,” then I think that person must be joking—or mad as a hatter.

But that’s because I think of the entire 20th century as being very recent. World Wars I and II were just the blink of an eye ago.

But to someone who thinks of those wars as being deeper history, to someone who thinks of recent history as starting in, say, 1989, then that statement about the character of Europeans might make total sense.

Note: this example is not intended to glorify America or disparage Europe. I’m using it just to show how one’s sense of what is recent history can totally change one’s point of view. (By the way, I’m no Europe-hater or insular American. I’m taking French classes, because I love learning other languages, histories, and cultures.)

What I’m saying is that the more I listen to people and read what they write the more I realize that people’s senses of what is recent history don’t match, and this is a source of misunderstanding, confusion, and disagreement.

It’s natural to assume that everybody’s sense of time is the same, but it’s not true.

27 Sep 2002