Time difference, disorientation and meaningful communication

I was jolted when watching Interstellar recently – a 2014 movie starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway.

The movie caused to be to dwell on the time-difference I’ve experienced since moving to Los Angeles – 9 or 10 hours difference to South Africa (depending on day-light savings). Similarly to the astronaut in the film, I wake up and “download” messages from another time-zone. Every morning I know that there will be a stream of messages from numerous chat groups where life continues to chug along, on another wavelength, without my participation. It’s a little daunting to turn my phone off flight mode in the mornings. I prepare myself for the excitement of connecting with loving family and brace for the potential barrage of questions; personal, professional and other.

Direct communication breaks off because its a challenge to enter a long video call first thing in the morning when I’m getting my day up and running. And there is only a small time overlap so once my afternoon comes around no-one is online. The world is quiet and there is this eerie feeling of limbo. In some senses its wonderfully quiet and liberating. In others, its disconcerting. When you “need someone” it’s very rare that you can get hold of them. You must plan, schedule and wait. Obviously, there are positives and negatives to this. It’s great to digest one’s emotions internally, seek out specific council, make conversations goal directed and get all the detail when the opportunity arises. But humans cannot communicate like this all the time. Relationships cannot exist in video calls alone. The in between moments matter. Cooking together, shouting at the rugby, standing around the braai… There’s no body language in video calls and no awkward silences to allow the subtler emotions to eke out. You also cannot schedule your week with a million video calls to another time zone. Plus, there are tons of people who aren’t going to stick to a schedule, and it’s disappointing when they don’t.

This whole dynamic is SIGNIFICANTLY more intense in interstellar where years pass between the communication downloads. Watching the film was an intriguing opportunity to stress the emotion I’ve been feeling below the surface every day.

It reminds me how lucky I am to have video calls, voice notes and text messages. It’s far better to receive them once a day than every few months (or years) as people in other generations have endured. I’ve got tonnes of ways to stay in contact, other than snail-mail in the post, which is how my mom used to communicate with her mom for years. I just need to make the effort and apply my mind. And when I do, its rewarding. I’m incredibly grateful for the meaningful messages I receive. Many of my relationships have grown exponentially since I’ve left South African shores. Long may it continue.

Another idea, that probably hits all viewers like a brick in the face, is the idea of time slipping away, flashing past us as we “try to save the world”. What’s important? What do we care about? And what do we want to achieve in the time that we’ve got? Are we really going to “save the world” or should we build a strong family, cherish the relationships we have and make the most of the time that we have with the people who we love?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in stress, or depression or any other negative label you want to fire at me. I find this therapeutic; observational digestion of the emotion through writing and sharing.

I’m looking for answers, finding balance and comfort that I’ll only find balance if I’m aware of the weight on either side.


One thought on “Time difference, disorientation and meaningful communication

  1. Hi Rob,

    Loved this. Thank you!

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