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We cannot master the clock

<h5>Whig Hall under the faint glow of a Tuesday morning sunrise.</h5><h6>Timothy Park / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Whig Hall under the faint glow of a Tuesday morning sunrise.
Timothy Park / The Daily Princetonian

What can you do in one hour? A few things come to my mind: I could practice my viola for the length of time high-school-me found appropriate, I could successfully dry my clothes in an unappealing First College basement, or I could make a 20-page dent in my weekly reading schedule. Nothing too important — an hour is not a lot of time.

However, the nation has recently decided otherwise. On March 15, the Senate unanimously passed a bill to make daylight savings time permanent. It would mean that our clocks would no longer jump between times twice a year — we would never spring back again!

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An hour does not mean much to me. All I felt when I heard this news was shock that the Senate passed anything at all, much less unanimously. However, this decision has garnered immense public attention. According to Scientific American, the change will permanently harm our “circadian rhythms.” The Jewish Orthodox Union also argued against the change, as it will make it more difficult for morning prayers to be said pre-work. One Washington Post columnist scathingly criticized Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville for claiming the change will result in “more sunshine,” and suggested that the government should refrain from believing that the change “altered the rotation of the Earth.”

I find it fascinating that so much debate has come from this idea of ‘losing’ or ‘gaining’ time. After all, what do the clock changes mean? We commonly say we ‘lose’ an hour in the spring, but that’s technically incorrect. The moon does not fast-forward through the sky, and our bodies do not jump through an hour of sleep. The widespread notion that we can legislate time, and govern its effect on us, is somewhat ridiculous.

The Senate is not the only one guilty of this fallacy: Princeton students attempt to plan every moment of their days in order to achieve maximum productivity and, perhaps, happiness. We imagine that our days, our grades, and our brains would be better if we could just spend our time correctly. Yet this infatuation with plans prevents us from truly enjoying our lives.

There is a pervasive obsession with how we spend our time — constantly trying to optimize our use of it to the smallest degree. One of the most common examples of this phenomenon is the rise of “Daily Routine Videos” on TikTok, which, Sophie Haigney in the New York Times notes, demonstrate absurd levels of micromanagement in an attempt to schedule every part of the creator’s life. We are certainly not free from this at Princeton, where students seem to have an obsession with living life according to the schedule. The McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning constantly counsels planning out the semester and implores us to utilize strict agendas to avoid burnout and plan our lives, both in and out of the classroom. White breaks on my friends’ Google calendars are few and far between; their days are full of appointments and plans.

I am also one of these people: I live and breathe life through my planner. My mother’s most common advice is to make a daily plan. Though it’s true that planning sometimes helps me reduce anxiety and is certainly useful to succeed in my classes, I am sick of perpetually trying to control time. I don’t want to constantly live my life according to some schedule I told myself weeks ago would work best. I decided at the beginning of the semester I would run at 3:30 p.m. every other day after precept, but now that the weather is warmer I’d rather use that time to read in Prospect Garden and eat a late-meal snack. It’s impossible to pre-plan my emotions! There is no way to determine in advance at what moment I am going to feel the desire to do certain things, or simply feel joy in my day. This loss of spontaneity stops us from being able to truly enjoy the present. Instead, we’re always focused on the future, planning for the next week while living the current one according to some (often unrealistic) expectations from days prior.

The Senate has got it right in one sense — it does not make sense to flip-flop between times with the goal of developing our days to the precise right amount of sunlight. It is an example of human arrogance to believe we can make time bend to our will, or that we can squeeze every drop of productivity out of a day.

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We need to stop pretending that if only we could master time, we could improve our lives. Guest contributor Johnatan Reiss wrote that Princeton students would be better off if the University “mandated” some more free time. I agree that we need to free ourselves from the rigidity of our environment, but I would argue that University-sponsored productivity breaks do not solve a problem. They would only continue to enslave us to a false idea: that the perfect plan will lead to the perfect life.

Though it sometimes seems impossible with all the work and stressors of college life, it’s important that we take individual responsibility for the way we lead our lives. We must stop pretending that we can make them better by winning the race of time, and start living more in tune with our desires. There is a difference between organization and obsession with crafting the perfect day. Be kind to yourself and leave room for spontaneous moments of happiness and fulfillment. If you are a 4–10 a.m. sleeper, live your truth. Apparently, you’ll never have to worry about seeing the clock skip again.

Abigail Rabieh is a first-year columnist from Cambridge, Mass. She intends to concentrate in history and typically writes about American politics. She enjoys playing the viola, trying to study in all the possible areas of Firestone Library, and rooting for Boston sports teams. She can be reached by email at arabieh@princeton.edu, on Instagram at @a.rabs03, or on Twitter at @AbigailRabieh.

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