Back in 1986, Dutch teenagers Karin, Laura, Mandy and Marjon most likely didn’t realise that their track “Alles heeft een ritme” (“Everything has a rhythm”) basically described the state of affairs in modern science. “Neem de tijd voor alle dingen, leef je eigen ritme” (“Take your time for all things, live your own rhythm”) is what they belted out back then as Frizzle Sizzle at the Eurovision Song Contest.
It had only been two years since molecular biologists Jeffrey Hall and Michael Rosbash, due in part to the previous work done by Michael Young, had managed to isolate the DNA of fruit flies. That is how they began figuring out the molecular mechanism behind the biological clock that directs all life on earth.
This month, the three men have finally received the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine. It’s about time, too, given that the circadian rhythm is under a lot of stress from mankind these days.
Let’s rewind to the eighties, when the appeal made by the young singers Karin, Laura, Mandy, and Marjon did not yet resonate with most. Even so, being mindful about time was already in vogue. Economist and activist Jeremy Rifkin, who is currently propagating the “energy internet,” wrote the book Time Wars in 1987, in which he disapproved of the “artificial time environment” in which all processes take only nano-seconds due to computer processes, and start falling ‘outside of the domain of consciousness. In the book, he advocates becoming “time rebels,” leaving artificial time behind us and going back to the rhythms of nature. Ways to achieve this are through sustainable agriculture or alternative forms of education.
Before good ideas can flourish, one needs to distance themselves from them for a while. Thirty years on, Rifkin’s plea has become more urgent than ever. We are currently living in liquid modernity, a term coined by the philosopher Zygmunt Bauman, who passed away earlier this year. Now that fixed structures, like the nine-to-five work day, are providing less guidance than before, time is becoming more crucial than ever. That same liquid modernity is offering us chances to build new connections: we are no longer stuck in rigid frameworks. Of course, that’s possible only if we have – or make – the time to do so.
We are on the run and only occasionally taking the time to stand still. Scientists are warning us about the lack of sleep that young people are getting due to their waking up several times throughout the night to check their phones for new messages. Their rhythm has literally been interrupted, and it’s obvious who the culprit is. Perhaps you haven’t gone that far down this road yet, but do stop to ponder whether you dawdle enough in your everyday life.
Every professional athlete knows that in order to break records, one needs plenty of rest. Good ideas similarly need time to simmer. Before they flourish, you will need to step away from them for a moment. All the more reason to become a time rebel and realize that despite all the available technology, a day still only has 24 hours.
This article originally appeared on Studio Zeitgeist.