One quick distinction between “pop” culture and “high” culture—note scare quotes and some smirking—concerns necessary effort. To appreciate that theme song from Friends in whatever way—it’s cheerful fun; it’s trite babbling; it’s not much; it’s another little piece of my heart—requires no sustained effort. Any response to it happens instantly, modified only by repetition.

I want to write «“The Time of Your Life”». The 3000-word idea is good; the introductory paragraph (“193 words into this essay, now 200”) is good.


The first time I figured the 60-second minutes in a 60-minute hour added up to 3,600 seconds, it was too abstract to register; as was the calculation that a 24-hour day of 3,600-second hours totaled 86,400 seconds. It was correct but unconnected to anything else and so forgotten.

The next time I considered the matter, I wanted to know how many seconds were in a year. Straightforward multiplication immediately told me the answer was 31,536,000, or thirty-odd million seconds, but the number meant almost nothing to me, which set me to wondering how I could say, “Okay, now I understand,” when plainly I did not, and then I wondered whether I understood it at all. What did a figure like thirty million really mean?

Simple counting in games such as hide-and-seek made me comfortable with 60-second minutes. Of a 60-second minute, I could say confidently, “I understand this.” Even five minutes, 300 seconds, was graspable almost immediately, but a tenfold jump to 3,000 seconds?—what was that? Fifty minutes? It was correct but made no sense. Fifty, yes. Three thousand, no. And so here was a distinct mark to consider: the jump to thousands stopped making sense. I never counted into the thousands—nobody did. It would take far too long to do. The number was too far from my direct experience to really feel in the same way I could feel the seconds in a minute, each ticking individually toward the time I could seek or somebody could seek me.

Essay title: «“Big Pictures, Long Runs, and Weltanshauungs”».

Wondered about the attribution of the “necessary to invent it if it didn’t already exist” trope; thought it was Voltaire; turned out to be Voltaire. Good one, François-Marie!

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