by David Sisler

The 2002 Winter Olympic Games are fast approaching. For no reason that I understand, I was recently thinking of a decade ago and the 1992 Summer Games.

Think for a moment. What is the most enduring picture of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games? A gymnast recording a perfect score of 10? The moment when a relay racer passes off the baton? A diver splitting the water from a height of 30 meters with barely a ripple? The establishment of a new world record?

“My most enduring memory?” you ask. “I didn’t even remember that there was Olympic competition that year!”

The most enduring picture of the Barcelona games is very likely, subliminal, meaning your subconscious mind saw the image and recorded it, but your conscious mind was not aware that you had seen it.

Stuck there in the back of your mind are five small letters, one little word. You saw it during every event that was won by the fastest performer. Even in events that required strength or grace it was in the background. The longest lasting image of the 1992 Olympic games is not an athlete, but a watch. Seiko, the official timer of the Olympics. And I remember that because Seiko’s watches were sold exclusively in the store where I was working at the time.

Counting on their name recognition factor instead of the usual advertising hype, Seiko advertising executives developed four unusual print ads. In black and white, with only the company logo in color, most of the page was filled with a photograph of an athlete – a swimmer, a runner, a discus thrower, a wrestler. Then at the bottom of the page, some of the most powerful ad copy I've ever read.

"You have exactly 5 minutes to win. Or a lifetime to forget if you don't."

"1.05 seconds faster, and he's back on the team. Anything less, and he's back on the bench."

"3 minutes 46.7 seconds will break the record. 3 minutes 47.1 seconds will break his heart."

"He's spent 21 years, 3 months and 2 days getting here. But all that matters is the next 48.62 seconds."

The emphasis is on time – the fleeting moment of success.

What is time? Richard Feynman won a Noble prize in physics. He said, "We physicists work with time every day, but don't ask me what it is. It's just too difficult to think about."

An anonymous philosopher scribbled what may be time's best definition on the wall of a Texas diner: "Time is nature's way of keeping everything from happening at once."

Gernot Winkler, director of the Time Service Department at the U. S. Naval Observatory says, "We have given more attention to measuring time than to any other variable in nature."

One second used to be defined as one-sixtieth of a minute. No longer. Its definition is now based on the oscillation of electrons in the element, cesium.

And that characteristic jump of the second hand on your quartz watch? That isn't accurate enough anymore. Scientists have divided time into nanoseconds – one billionth of a second, picoseconds – one trillionth of a second, and femtoseconds – one thousandth of a picosecond. Just so you'll understand – there are more femtoseconds in one second than there were seconds in the last 31 million years!

David Allan, a time theorist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology says, "The past does not exist except in our memory, nor the future, except in our expectations of it. The most a clock gives is the time an instant ago."

Remember that watch ad: "All that matters is the next 48.62 seconds?" From the changing pronouncements of scientific revelations to the changeless declaration of God's Word: "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." Nanoseconds? Picoseconds? Femtoseconds? What about right now?


Copyright 2002 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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