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It's math that's simple enough for a third grader, but it seems wrong no matter how you calculate it.

Time is a strange phenomenon. It speeds up when we want it to slow down and drags when we wish it would go by faster. Sometimes it feels like we blink and a decade has gone by. Cue "the days are long, but the years are short," "time flies when you're having fun," and all the other time cliches that feel 100% true.

Of course, those truisms are all about our perception of time, not time itself. Time ticks by in a never-changing rhythm of seconds, minutes, hours, days and years, perfectly metered and measured. But it sure doesn't feel that way, which is why a simple math equation an average third grader can do has grown adults pulling out their calculators to make sure it's correct.

The equation in question comes from meme that reads "1981 and 2024 are as far apart as 1981 and 1938."

Yep, it's correct. The math checks out, no matter how many times you plug the numbers into the calculator. So why does it feel so wrong?

Again, time is a tricky thing. Those of us who were alive in 1981 remember how far back 1938 seemed to us at that time, and there's simply no way that distance is what 1981 is to us now. It seems impossible.

Part of the problem is that, at least for the middle-agers among us, the 80s still feels like they happened 20 years ago, not 43. That's simply how time perception works as we age.

But that's not all of it. As some people have pointed out, there were certainly major changes in both time periods, but the hugely significant cultural changes from 1938 to 1981 were more visible in many ways than most changes we've seen since then. Yes, technology exploded near the turn of the millennium, but once the internet and laptops and smartphones hit the scene, tech advancements have mostly been a matter of degree—better, smaller, lighter, faster, more efficient, more intuitive—in fairly steady increments and not so much dramatic jumps.

From 1938 to 1981, we saw huge leaps, from tiny black-and-white television to full-color cable television, from the first transatlantic passenger flight to sending humans to the moon on space shuttles, from switchboards and party lines to cell phone technology, from human computers to PCs.

We also saw clothing styles change drastically from one decade to the next during that time period in a way that we haven’t really seen in the past 40 years. Same with architecture and home designs. The mid-20th century saw the birth of rock n' roll, the Civil Rights Movement and the shift to women into the workforce. Again, huge leaps.

Wars also defined generations more in the mid-20th century than in the decades since, from WWII to the Vietnam War to the Cold War. It’s not that we haven’t had wars since 1981, but the direct impact of those wars on American life has not been as notable as those previous wars were.

Then again, it’s possible that much of the difference in feel is simply our perception of life now vs. then. Do the years since 1981 seem shorter simply because we’ve lived them, whereas most of us weren’t alive for a good chunk of the 1938 to 1981 time period and only learned it as “history”?

Hard to say, but one thing that’s clear is that people do not like the way this math feels, as evidenced by the comments people left on the post.

“Fitz is cancelled. Feeling triggered here. Lol”

“I did the math too many times because I don’t want to believe this.”

“As someone born in 1981 I really dislike this.”

“Shut your mouth. Those are fighting words! “

“I honestly did nothing to you! Like why?”

“They're not far apart. You're far apart."

It certainly will be interesting to see how the next 43 years feel for the people who live through it vs. 1981 until now.

Pop Culture

Cruel meme about time has Gen X feeling 'dazed and confused'

Uh, there's no way this math is right. Right? [Grabs calculator.]

Photo (left) by Oskars Sylwan on Unsplash, Photo (right) by Taylor Flowe on Unsplash

The difference between 1976 and 1993 felt like ages.

The "forgotten generation" has hit peak mid-life crisis time, as Gen Xers find themselves careening through their 40s and 50s. And like presumably every generation before them, they're reeling a bit, asking, "How did I get here already?" as they pluck gray hairs out of weird places, send kids off to college and obsessively check their retirement accounts.

And now a meme that hits right at the heart of that crisis has Gen Xers feeling even more dazed. One might even say…confused.

In cruel bit of calculation, X user @AZNotoriousJPG shared a screenshot image from the cult classic "Dazed and Confused" with this caption:

"Dazed and Confused came out in 1993 and was based in 1976. A comparable movie today would be based in 2007."

Wait, what? No. NO. That can't be right. That math isn't mathing. Where's the calculator?

[Frantically calculates this very basic subtraction problem four times because there's no way.]

It's right. How? How is this possible? The '70s felt like they were ages from the 90s, while 2007 was only like three years ago. Right?

First of all, I'm wrong. 2007 was 17 years ago—that's basically an entire generation ago. (I know, I have to let that one sit for a minute.) But secondly, it seems like there was much more of a cultural difference between the 1970s and the 1990s than there was between the 2020s and the 2000s.

But why? In some ways, the 2000s feel like they've all been one long decade, at least in terms of "feel." The 1960s, '70s, '80s and '90s each felt like they had a distinct feel in terms of style and culture. We can pinpoint fashions, slang, musical genres and what was popular during those decades. Can the same be said for the 2000s and the 2010s?

Maybe it can. Facebook came out in 2004 and the iPhone came out in 2007, so I'm sure that changed things significantly. Social media and smartphones? That's huge. Is it just because we're (gulp) so old now that Gen Xers can't differentiate between recent decades? Are we just so out of touch with young fashions and hip culture that we don't even see it?

Honestly? Yeah, probably. I've heard my teens say something along the lines of, "That's giving, like, early 2000s" when referring to a song or a fashion choice. I guess I should be happy that I'm "with it" enough to know what "giving" means, but I'd never be able to tell you how something from the early 2000s is any different than something from two years ago.

Gen Xers have not taken kindly to having this timeline change thrown in their faces:

"Oh!! This hurts!!"


"I was having a good day. We were all having a good day."

"I get, we’re old!!! Quit reminding us!"

"All I see from this is that I am old AF."

"That doesn’t make any sense. 2007 was last week. I have medicine in the closet which expired earlier than that. Not possible."

"Nope, that’s not okay."

"You didn't have to choose violence, yet here we are."

You can tell the Gen Xers from the millennials and Gen Zers in the comments because the younger folks just keep commenting with "Superbad," a coming-of-age comedy that came out in 2007. What they don't understand is it's not the number of years that hits hard with this meme, it's the vast difference between how 17 years felt between the 70s and 90s and how they feel in the 2000s.

You have to have lived it to get it, I suppose, but "Dazed and Confused" in 1993 felt more like a movie made now based in the '80s would feel. Think "Stranger Things." That's what the time difference felt like for us.

Time is weird, man. But even 30 years later (wait, what?) "Dazed and Confused" is still a fabulous film, and Gen X is still the coolest generation.


Why time seems to accelerate as we get older and what we can do to slow it down

How time works is totally trippy, but there are some "tricks" to change how our brains process it.

Jordan Benton/Canva

Time is weird.

You're going along, minding your own business on the internet, when suddenly this little gem comes across your timeline:

screenshot that reads "1980 and 2023 are as far apart as 1937 and 1980 were. Sleep tight, odl fogies"1980 to 2023 = 1937 to 1980. How can that math be right? Kevin Smith/GenX Only Facebook Group

Your first reaction is, "Nuh-uh, no way," so you pull out the calculator to do the math yourself—several times because you're sure you must've missed a number somewhere. You remember how long ago 1937 seemed in 1980, and there's no possible way that much time has passed between 1980 and now. Then, as the warped reality of time washes over you, you sit and stare in stunned silence, contemplating the existential crisis.

Why does time work this way? Why does it seem to get faster and faster and condense to make decades seem shorter and shorter as we age? And perhaps more importantly, how the heck do we stop time from feeling like a runaway freight train?

Here are a few theories about what creates the freight train phenomenon.

Time perception is relative—and kids perceive it differently

"Time flies when you're having fun" is a saying for a reason. Time also drags when you're doing drudgery work and feels like it stands still in moments of significance. And yet the ticking of seconds as they go by doesn't change tempo. We measure it with steady, unchanging beats, but how it feels changes constantly.

This relativity exists in every passing moment, but it also exists in the bigger picture as well. The years felt like they passed by much more slowly when we were children, and by middle age, they feel like they pass in the blink of an eye. The pandemic gave us an even greater sense of this relativity as disruptions to our normal routines and the stress associated with the COVID-19 years messed with our sense of time. (On an odd side note, surveys show that our time perception during the pandemic varied a lot from place to place—people in some parts of the world felt that time moved more slowly, while others felt time moved more quickly.)

According to a 2023 Hungarian study published in Nature Scientific Reports, very young children perceive time differently than older children and adults. Researchers split 138 people into three age groups—pre-kindergarten, school-age and adults 18 and over—and showed them two videos of the same duration, one that was "eventful" and one that was "uneventful." Interestingly, the pre-K group perceived the eventful video to be longer, while the older children and adults saw the uneventful video as longer.

The way the study participants described the length of the videos in gestures was also telling. Young children were much more likely to use vertical hand gestures, connoting volume or magnitude, to indicate a length of time than the other two age groups. School-aged kids and adults tended to use horizontal gestures, indicating time as linear, increasing with age.

Our neural processing slows down as we age

Professor Adrian Bejan has a theory based on how neurons process signals. As we age, our neural networks increase in size and complexity, and as a result, process visual information at a slower rate. That slower processing means we create fewer mental images each second than we did when we were younger, thereby making time seem to slow down.

“People are often amazed at how much they remember from days that seemed to last forever in their youth, Bejan shared with Harvard University. "It’s not that their experiences were much deeper or more meaningful; it’s just that they were being processed in rapid fire.”

In other words, processing the same number of mental images we did in our youth takes longer now, somewhat counterintuitively making time seem to pass more quickly. So goes the theory, anyway.

It might simply be about time-to-life ratios

Another popular theory about why time feels different as a child than it does as an adult is the ratio of any given day, week or year to the amount of time we've been alive. To a 5-year-old, a year is 20% of their entire life. For a 50-year-old, a year only is 0.2% of their life, so it feels like it went by much more quickly.

It's also a matter of how much change has happened in that year. A year in the life of a 5-year-old is full of rapid growth and change and learning and development. A year in the life of a 50-year-old probably isn't a whole lot different than when they were 48 or 49. Even if there are major life changes, the middle-aged brain isn't evolving at nearly the same rate as a child. A 50-year-old looking back at the past year will have a lot fewer changes to process than a 5-year-old, therefore the year will seems like it went by a lot faster.

“Our perception of days, weeks, years and that kind of time seems to be especially influenced by our perspective: Are we in the moment experiencing it, or are we looking backward on time?” psychology professor Cindy Lustig told the University of Michigan.

The key to slowing it all down? Be mindful of the present moment.

Lustig has a point. When we are in the moment, our perception of time is much different than when we look back. So, being fully conscious in the present moment can help us rein in the freight train effect.

One way to do that is to be mindful of your physical existence in this moment. Feel your heart beating. Feel your breath going in and out. Cornell University psychology professor Adam Anderson, Ph.D., conducted a study that found our perception of time may be linked with the length of our heartbeats. (Study participants were fitted with electrocardiograms and asked to listen to a brief audio tone. They perceived the tone as longer after a longer heartbeat and shorter after a shorter one.) He suggests starting a stopwatch, closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing for what you think feels like a minute. Then, check your time to see how accurate your estimation was.

“This can give you a sense of how much your experience of your body is related to your experience of time,” Anderson told WebMD. “It will help teach you to enjoy the pure experience of time.”

You can also use focused breathing to purposely slow down your heart rate, and thus slow down your time perception. “We show that slow heart rates—that is, a longer duration between heartbeats—dilates time, slowing it down," Anderson said.

Finally, try to take in the world the way you did as a small child. Take note of life's wonders. Engage fully in whatever you're doing. Notice details and take mental pictures as much as you can. Time goes by fast when we're distracted, so training our attention on the here and now can help. Ultimately, we can strive to perceive time more like we did when we were little, in its full depth and magnitude instead of a narrow, straight line.


Comedian's song about life in the 90s has Gen X giggling with nostalgia

Ah, the good old days, when you had to choose between the phone or the internet.

Sammy J took us on a trip down memory lane.

Those of us who remember life before the internet love nothing more than to share "back in my day" stories with today's youngsters who've never had to try to get somewhere without GPS. When we tell our kids about dial-up internet, they look at us the same bewildered way we looked at our parents when they talked about party lines. So much fun.

Nothing splits the generations like what was considered advanced technology during our formative years, and one comedian has encapsulated that divide in an ode to the 1990s.

Sammy J sang "You'll Never Know What It's Like" at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and had the audience giggling along with recollections of life in the 90s. Driving around in the car with a big book of maps? Check. Making a collect call to tell your mom to pick you up but avoiding the collect call charges by telling her where you were instead of saying your name? Check. Agonizing over whether to take a photo because you only have 24 shots in your disposable camera? Check.

Younger generations will never know what it was like to live so primitively, it's true. But Gen X does, and this song is like taking a cold plunge into a pool of nostalgia.


People loved the musical trip to the past.

"Thank you for taking me down memory lane! It was a blast 😀" wrote one commenter.

But some couldn't agree on whether young people have it better today or had it better in the 90s.

"All true! If only our teenagers knew who good they have it!" wrote one person.

"Life was so so good in the 90’s I feel lucky it didn’t have to grow up in this era 😕," shared another.

"God I miss the 90s!" wrote another. "Both my daughters always say they wish they grew up in the 90s bc it seemed so much fun and it was!!"

Kids today really will never know what those days were like, but that's okay. They'll be singing their own "back in my day" songs someday and marvel at how much has changed since they were young.