You Probably Don’t Give a Flick

Earlier this week, social media giant Facebook, which has dramatically altered the way we interact with the kid we used to sit next to in second grade, announced that it has also invented time. The idea comes from designer Christopher Horvath, who first brought up the notion in a Facebook post in October of 2016.

How else would you ever keep track of the fascinating life of that counselor you met one weekend thirty-seven years ago at Scout Camp?

Because Facebook has been useful for connecting people with similar concerns, the post generated a large, productive response.  A whole bunch of geeks chimed in and more or less agreed that a new division of time would be a pretty handy tool for more precisely synching media frames.

The new time measurement is 1/705,600,000 of a second, which makes it just enough bigger than a nanosecond that it evidently makes a difference to those in the know. These tiny units of time are called “flicks,” not to be confused with “Netflix,” a unit of time defined as the span of one full night of binge-watching The Walking Dead instead of sleeping.

Perhaps, like me, you’re not a media geek, and fail to see how this particular invention will affect you. And you can relax, because most experts who have bothered to comment on the new time division agree that it really won’t.

The flick might make some of your video experiences just a little bit crisper, but your alarm clock isn’t suddenly going to start going off 1/705,600,000 of a second earlier. Most of us ignorant schlubs will go happily on with our lives until sometime at a trivia night we’ll be asked, “What is the smallest unit of time that is still larger than a nanosecond?” and we’ll say, “Shoot. ..I think I read about that once.”

So there are 42,336,000,000 flicks in a minute and 2,540,160,000,000 flicks in an hour, in case you do happen to give a flick.

But because time measurements are imposed human constructs that help us make sense of our world, it’s not always been easy for humankind to be so nonchalant. From Ancient China’s 100 “mark” day measured between midnights, to the 12 hour day and 3-4 watch night of the Ancient Greeks, every culture has attempted to mark the passage of time through the signs of nature and habits of the population in their particular corners of the world.

And so throughout most of history, everybody just did their own thing. That resulted in a confusing assortment of time systems, but it kind of worked up until 1876 when Scottish-Canadian railroad engineer and manager Sandford Fleming missed a train in Ireland because he couldn’t figure out the local time. Miffed, he joined a movement to standardize time, proposing a universal “cosmic time” based on a common meridian from which twenty-four time zones would spread out across the world.

wibbly wobbly
To me it’s really all just more wibbly-wobbly, timey- wimey stuff. photo credit: Rooners Toy Photography The Victorious via photopin (license)

Fleming shared his idea with anyone who would listen, including the 1884 Prime Meridian Conference where it was partially accepted. The conference liked the idea of Greenwich Mean Time, which adopted the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England as the center. Worldwide standard time zones, however, were harder to impose.

It turns out time, and how it’s calculated and divided and used, is pretty central to unique cultural identity. The system took some tweaking over the years and the occasional leap second adjustment, and it actually wasn’t until 1972 that every major world nation had finally jumped on the time zone wagon.

So if you aren’t too sure you’re ready to embrace this latest adjustment to the now standard divisions of time, and you’d rather Facebook just stuck to reintroducing you to those friends you haven’t seen in more than a few flicks, it might be that you’re following in the footsteps of history.

13 thoughts on “You Probably Don’t Give a Flick

  1. I never realized how recent the common meridian wibbly-wobbly, timey- wimey, thingy-whingy was. I wish they’d stop fiddling with the time every Spring and Fall though. Every country seems to change it differently and on different dates.

    1. Yes, and here it varies by states and even sometimes by counties. I was especially surprised that there were holdouts all the way up to the 1970s. I think wibbly-wobbly Liberia was the last to officially adopt its prescribed time zone.

  2. dynamicpatterns

    It’s all about math! And rounding. And making someone’s life easier (by definition).

    One second in a movie is separated into 24 individual images. So, one of these “frames” lasts for 1/24 of a second or 0.041666666666666666666666666…. seconds. That’s a number destined to cause problems in the real world. With the flick, one “frame” lasts for 29,400,000 flicks. Now, that is a nice, even number we can do any sort of arithmetic on without any mess, and we know Hollywood doesn’t like to have messes.

    It will be good for all of us entertainment-hungry folks. If media creators have an easier time lining up frames in a movie with audio or other elements embedded into video files, then our definition of a Netflix unit of time will have to increase significantly because… Can’t. Stop. Watching. So. Wonderfully. Synchronized. Movie. Frames.

  3. Yes, I get that. And I definitely get the impression that those who will use it are pretty excited about the introduction of the flick. I admit, too, I watched a few minutes of a show on my dvr tonight that was slightly out of synch, like maybe just a tiny bit more than a nanosecond, and I may have uttered, “What the flick?!”

  4. I think I’m con-flick but I don’t really care enough flicks to be adamant about it. It seems like another way to measure how much “time” (if there really is validity to that concept) I waste not writing because I’m either mesmerized or fighting a seizure caused by slightly out-of-sync videos on Facebook and You Tube. (I don’t have Net Flicks, so that’s a blessing, I guess.) So I’m conflicted on the pro- or con- stance of flicking at all. But thanks for bringing this to our collective attention so we can debate constructively. I’m keeping an open mind.

I love comments! Please keep them PG, though. I blush easily.

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