Time is such an odd thing to measure. Depending on the circumstances, time can feel a lot longer or shorter than it actually is. What’s really strange about time is the fact that it can never be measured twice. Sure, you can measure the same amount of time again, but you will never be able to measure that exact same section of time again. It’s gone, relinquished to the past. Does this mean that scientific measurements involving time cannot be repeated? If we want to be bogged down in semantics, nothing is ever repeatable because the time will never be the same. In fact, the ever-changing nature of time could almost be considered the purest universal constant.

Now you might be asking yourself why I’m currently so focused on time. Well, as a matter of fact, my birthday is at the end of September. Last year I turned 30 years old, and it struck me that I had actually reached “full adulthood” earlier in the year, not on the day of my birthday. I didn’t define my adulthood by a scale of time, like a specific number of years, but instead by experiences. By the time I turned thirty (in fact, in the year before this milestone) I got married, bought a house, and started wearing glasses. To me, these things not only made me feel older, but confirmed my suspicions that I’d become a complete adult (gasp!). Now that I’m upon the cusp of turning 31, I realize that I’ve reached the denouement of this life stage as I look into what the future holds for me. I’ve also made a determination about life in regards to the unit of time: years don’t cut it.

Me, newly born.

Sure, a year is a good distinguisher that helps mark the advancement of our age, but it really isn’t sufficient in denoting our life. Have you ever asked a child on their birthday if they feel older? Most of the time, the answer you’ll receive is “no”. A year just isn’t big enough to show a definitive change in our lives. Decades get a little closer to the goal, as we can clearly remember our life stages from when we were born to when we became a teenager and furthermore when we entered our twenties. Unfortunately, life gets a little complicated in the 20’s and 30’s and start to jumble together quite a bit. Furthermore, the later decades can sometimes be indistinguishable, as they are usually filled with retirement. The “score” (from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address) covers 20 years, but it only works for the first score of a person’s life, as there’s a pretty good distinction between everything before you turn twenty and everything after you turn twenty, but there’s less of a correlation at 40 and 60.

We need a unit of time to designate life stages

Of course, there are odd units of time out there that might be better demarcations of a person’s life. Some units are too small, like the “atom”, which itself makes up an “ounce” if there are 47 of them. But even 12 ounces must be collected in “moments” (which are just a mere 90 seconds, in case you ever need a “moment”). Furthermore, ten moments make a “point”, of which four make an hour. Now we’re back to a unit everyone recognizes, which clearly is much too small to measure the stages of life. A “lustrum” is a mere five years, but add it to an “Indiction” (a 15-year cycle) and now we’re back to a “score”. It is my opinion that we need a unit larger than 20 years to indicate which life stage we’re currently occupying.

“But!” I hear you cry, “What about a ‘generation’?” Ah, yes. This unit isn’t really a specific measurement as much as it is a notation of how old your progeny must be before they create the next generation. In fact, since it’s tied to the average age of mothers, the definition of a “generation” has changed over time. Most people think a generation is 20 years, but it’s actually a bit closer to 25.5. Therefore, since this designation of time isn’t a firm unit, might I suggest something a little more . . . metric? May I present to you:


This unit of time is exactly what it sounds like (i.e. one billion seconds), which makes it simple to understand. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that life can be defined by three distinct phases and that (barring any accidents or genetic predisposition to diseases) a fully-lived life lasts about 95 years. A single gigasecond works out to about 31.7 years, so let’s look at the stages of life we can define by gigaseconds:

  • 1st gigasecond (0 to 31.7 years): Formative years, usually concluding in the following . . .
    • Marriage
    • Home ownership
    • Children
  • 2nd gigasecond (31.7 to 63.4 years): Parenting years, usually concluding in the following . . .
    • House fully paid off
    • Children grown and on their own
    • Job nearing retirement
  • 3rd gigasecond (63.4 to 95.1 years): Retirement years, usually concluding in the following . . .
    • Grandchildren (and possibly even Great-Grandchildren)
    • Potentially limiting physical conditions
    • Nearing end of life
  • 4th gigasecond (95.1 to 126.8 years): Bonus round, usually concluding in the following . . .
    • World record-setting longevity

As you can see, clearly most lives can be categorized into three gigaseconds. Obviously there will be outliers, as there are in any collective set of data, but I think this system really captures the different stages of life. So, while I approach my 31st birthday, I’ll merely celebrate being once again in my prime (because 31 is a prime number, after all) as I start to plan for my gigasecond party at the beginning of June. I’m not sure how I would celebrate such an event, as I believe I may be the first person ever to celebrate gigaseconds.

I’m certainly open for suggestions.

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