In the same way that dissecting a joke can render it unfunny, fixating too closely on time can stretch the minutes beyond their usefulness.
That's part of what makes the project All The Minutes, and its Twitter incarnation @alltheminutes, so riveting. The bot crawls Twitter and retweets users who refer to the time for every minute of the day. The effect evokes artist Christian Marclay's stunning collage film, The Clock, a 24-hour loop that mashes up scenes from thousands of movies and television shows to refer to the actual time as the film plays.
All The Minutes, according to creator Jonathan Puckey's explanation on GitHub, was a way to generate one sprawling story of a single day. The project was originally part of an exhibition at the Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands, he said. "It interesting to us that these days people choose to speak about exact minutes in relation to their lives," Puckey told me. "Almost as if they could be doing something different every minute. As if every minute counts."
But on Twitter, @alltheminutes warps the real-time experience. Partly because the experience of reading tweets often means you encounter them minutes or even hours after they were retweeted, but also because people are tweeting from all over the world in different time zones to begin with. For instance, this morning when it was 7:42 a.m. for me, @alltheminutes retweeted someone from six hours in the future and two years in the past, from 1:42 p.m. on a March day in 2012.
It's 1:42pm and Eva is still in bed :(— Belén Martín (@Belen_chu) March 5, 2012
Maybe not surprisingly, a lot of these tweets have to do with people's sleep troubles. There are many tweets from those who wish they were asleep or can't believe they slept so late.
And that's the thing about the way people talk about time—it usually only comes up when something is off. That thing of it being a Wednesday but feeling like a Thursday. (Don't worry, today really is Friday.) Or the sense that what you're doing is somehow wrong, given the time of day. Which, okay, is the whole point of time as a human construct: to give us cues on what to do and when to do it. But disruptions to our sense of time happen constantly. We're all always experiencing time differently. We run late. We show up early. We can't believe it's already December. While time is busy marching on, we're often either ahead or behind. Consider this sampling of retweets from All The Minutes:
"It's 4:24am and I'm in bed watching a documentary about a chimpanzee named Nim." "It's 2.19pm and I am pretty sure I am still drunk." "It's 11:51pm and all I want is an entire pumpkin pie okay." "It's 10:12am and THERE ARE STILL NO BISCUITS. Wtf is this anarchy!? "It's 9:57am and kyle and I are sobbing while watching cheaper by the dozen 2." "It's 1:31pm and he hasn't texted me back from last night. I give up." "its 10:29am and i already want pizza." "It's 3.11am and I'm sober in Burger King. What's happening?" "It's 9:23am and I can't wait to taste wines tonight!" "it's 2:32pm and I woke up like 5 minutes ago." "Its 2:50am and I'm still doing homework." "It's 11:29am and I've only just realised I've had my t-shirt on backwards the whole morning." "It's 3.12am and I'm cooking supernoodles. what my life." "It's 7:32am and I am listening to R Kelly very loudly. Where did it all go wrong?"
In some cases, people comment on the time because it feels just right: "Its 1:35pm and we are on the 135 bus, make a wish." Or because they're hyperaware of its passage themselves:
It's 10:33pm and i want see you. It's 10:34pm and i want see you. It's 10:35pm and i want see you.— NammyWorthy (@Woorths) August 17, 2014
A lot of @alltheminutes is what you'd expect. People are grumpy in the mornings, lonely in the middle of the night, and hungry all the time. "But while the mention of the exact minute is very digital and hard, the way people relate to the minute is extremely human," Puckey said. "The messages tend to be about not being able to fall asleep, or still being in bed while they should have gotten up a long time ago. A kind of guilt we all share about not being optimal human beings—but also a guilt we relish, perhaps."
Like Marclay's The Clock, @alltheminutes leaves the observer in a kind of temporal limbo. Seeing one of the account's retweets in a stream of tweets not concerned with the minutes ticking by is a bit like an alarm or reminder popping up: It's after midnight and you're still up reading tweets. Scrolling through the @alltheminutes feed all at once is like being on a treadmill: You're simultaneously waiting for something to happen and feeling like you just missed something but not going anywhere. (And if all this seems like too much, there's always Big Ben for comic relief.)
In other words, the account confirms what we already know about our relationship with time: Its passage is better noted in retrospect. Watching it crawl by is exhausting. And, if we're lucky, we get to experience far more of it than we often realize.