Significance of a Fortnight

I often wondered about how the term seemed to be very important in older times. It is a period of 2 weeks, 14 to 15 days, or a half of a lunar cycle. We still use the concept for things like time-keeping and paycheck cycles, and with the same ambiguity: sometimes it is exactly 2 weeks, and other times it is exactly half a month. My impression is that it was more relevant to a lot of other activities in the past.

Our choice of time units has clear links to astronomy. The day is determined by the sun, the month originally started as a lunar cycle, and the year is the period between particular solstices or equinoxes. For nearly all of the history of human civilization, these time intervals governed life. Our biology also conforms to these cycles because we have daily sleep periods, and women have monthly periods.

The coincidence of the women’s monthly cycle with the lunar cycle is fascinating. I am sure someone has come up with an explanation but I wonder why it applies so specifically to humans. It may be a gradually acquired trait that was a consequence of our distant ancestor’s obsession with the lunar cycle.

I am more familiar with the daily sleep cycle. Different people may adjust their schedule to sleep during different times of the day, but in generally a daily period of sleep is required. Personally, I have been trying to move my sleep schedule by about 4 hours, but with little success so far. If that ever happens, I still will be sleeping every day.

Decades ago, I would take a noon-time walk to a nature park near my work. We had an hour lunch and I chose to carry a bagged sandwich to eat at the park, then stroll around a little bit and then return to the office. This was a very regular habit over the course of about a year and a half. During the second year, I began to notice that there was a very distinctive change in the natural surroundings about every two weeks. Of course this was more gradual, but the awareness of the change occurred very regularly at about two week intervals. Native plants that bloom complete their bloom cycle in about two weeks. For example, I recall there being a period where I was constantly walking into spider webs stretched across the path and these were abundant only for a period of about two weeks. At the time, I imagined that it would better to define the seasons in two week intervals. Every two weeks, something different was happening. Even in the depth of winter, there was something noticeably different happening about every two weeks.

It was at about that time I started to appreciate the two week interval as being better than the 7 day week. In subtle ways, I started to organize my life around a two week pattern, or a fortnight pattern. At the time, the normal expectation would be that date nights would be every week on Fridays and Saturdays, and I recall Thursday nights being included. I would follow the pattern except I would skip every other week. I would have a weekend every two weeks. I would use the skipped weekend in other ways. A better description would be that alternated my weekends where one was being sociable, and the other being alone. That distinction eventually faded as I shut down my sociable efforts, but I still retain a distinction. One weekend of the fortnight would be more entertaining than the other.

In more recent years, we have greatly eroded the significance of particular weekdays. Our technologies give us the ability to always be connected so that our work may interrupt us as any time, and it may expect that we can shuffle our schedule to accommodate its needs.

These technologies also permit us to consume entertainment at times of our individual choosing, with the consequence of a new paranoia about spoilers. When I was growing up, everyone would watch a show at the same time. We could then talk about it at leisure the next day because everyone had either seen it or missed it with no opportunity to see it in the future. Later, we have to talk more abstractly about the show being good, or the acting being good, and avoiding any hint about what actually happened. More recently, most people enter their first viewing already knowing what is going to happen. There must be a social-psychology impact for this change in how people share an experience. I personally think we lost something important with the older approach. We lost the ability to share an experience.

While there still remains things like office hours and opening hours, we are increasingly doing our business online. I recently ordered something from a drugstore after the store was closed from the day. I did it over the phone and used some automated system to enter my order. My order was waiting for me when I stopped by the next day. In the now distant past, I would have had to go to the counter, ask for a refill, and then either wait or come back later to pick it up. The times available to do that would be the store’s hours. I still like using the physical store for nostalgic purposes, but I could just as easily had the order delivered directly to my house.

I am increasingly buying even the most minor purchases online and often have the option of having it delivered the same day. When I first moved into this house, I did some home project where I would need to make multiple trips to the hardware store because either I did not anticipate needing something, or more often I broke something. Now, I am inclined to order it online and have it delivered quickly. I adjust my project schedule around this wait.

All of the above is to describe an erasure of the significance of weekdays and opening hours. Consequently, we are also erasing the significance of weekends and evenings. The old time keeping units are increasingly irrelevant. This is making it harder for us to connect. There is a convenience in knowing that there is a day like Friday where we can expect everyone would be finished with their work for the week and have no pressing need to wake up early on the next day. For example, we could confidently suggest a date night on a Friday or a Saturday because everyone was on the same schedule of work and rest. We may still target those days for certain events, and certain venues still emphasize those times, but the schedule seems much less convenient than it once did.

In my last job, I began to have a different pattern of work and rest. There were particular days and hours I could rest, but they were in the middle of what others would consider their busy times. Even within work, my busiest times were when many others were idle or not working. Friday evenings in particular were frequently a busy time for me, while Thursdays was typically a slow day for me. I would do more work on Saturdays and Sundays due to the low risk of being interrupted. In that pattern, the ideal time for me to socialize would typically be during lunch times during specific weekdays. That pattern did not work for others. Even when we would have lunch, they would rush through it while I could easily have stretched it out for 90 minutes or more.

I submitted my activity or progress reports on a semi-monthly basis. I organized my work and leisure schedule around this pattern. The problem with the semi-month is that its start and end dates drift in terms of what day of the week it falls on. The first or sixteenth of a month is my Monday, the last or the fifteenth of the month was my Friday. The off days were scattered somewhere in the middle.

I did have past jobs that used a bi-weekly schedule and that was more compatible with the normal weekdays. The problem occurred with compressed work schedules and alternative work schedules where people would concentrate their work to get a 4 day weekend every other week. This would be better if every one had the same schedule, but the benefit was to allow each person customize their own schedule to their own pleasing. I suppose they appreciate that benefit, but it does present a challenge for making new connections.

From a work perspective, it became increasingly difficult to schedule meetings because there would always be some essential person who would be off during the time. Most meetings would end up occurring on Wednesdays, while Mondays and Fridays had very few meetings even though most people were working on those days. A plot of scheduled meetings during the week is very consistent with Wednesday being called the hump day. I think this is unfortunate. More could be accomplished if the discussions were spread out more across the week. Personally, I hated that it was nearly impossible to have a decent lunch break on Wednesdays, and that was even before the introduction of lunch-and-learn meetings.

In these posts I frequently observe possible degenerations of the current condition. I do have a nostalgia for older work patterns especially those that were already becoming extinct when I entered the working market. My earliest jobs had a strong element to this. These were jobs with very strict working hours including lunch period that everyone must follow. Two were factory-type settings where the schedule was based on the convenience of the factory. One was an office job, where the schedule was for the convenience of the workers: we looked forward to the group lunches and after work meet-ups later described as happy hours. It was during my brief period at that one job that I watched it convert from the old way to the new way. They introduced flex schedules and those had the effect of extending the hours when the office would be open because someone would be in the office.

I recall the point when people started to eat at their desks. I recall feeling disgusted about this at first before I ended up doing the same thing. This did not seem right.

While I do find certain aspects of old practices to be admirable, my personality is such that I learn to adapt to the new circumstances. I find a way to adjust my own schedule and my expectations from other schedules. I would say that I am a conformist, but in the modern environment I am conforming to anarchic chaos.

This chaos is an opportunity to rethink the nature of time itself. The normal workweek is no longer relevant to me, but I do find an appeal to the fortnight. I feel a real pattern of things being different every two weeks or every half month. It is more than just nature, it is also internally. I also like to set two week goals instead of weekly ones or monthly ones. At the end of the goal would be a weekend of something resembling leisure.

I would like to redefine the week as a fortnight. There would be 14 or 15 new weekday names to replace the current 7. There would be 26 such weeks in the year.

The significance of year is eroding as much as the significance of the work week. My work experience involved frequent job changes. In each of these new experiences, there was distinctive difference between the first two years and the second two years. The first two years were harder and more frustrating than the second two years. The actual break point is close to the two year mark. I would redefine a year to double its length as well. There would be 52 weeks in a year, but each week is twice as long, and each year is twice as long.

I already described how the day itself is eroding in significance. I personally have no problem working up to 16 hours straight if the work demands it. I could adapt to a 48 hour day where most of the work would be a single 16 hour interval with perhaps a couple eating breaks. The rest of the time is off. I don’t know what this unit would be called because it is more in conflict with the inescapable daylight cycle. For here, I will call it a bi-day. In this new system there would be a 7 bi-days in a fortnight, and 52 fortnights in a bi-year.

Unlike the other time units I do not have as much complaint about the hours and minutes. However using this new system, it becomes awkward to refer to hours with numbers greater than 12. The current clock system divides the day into two, with the midpoint at noon, and then divides each half into 12. I could be comfortable with a similar arrangement for my bi-days and have bi-hours. The midpoint is not as obvious as noon that is when the sun is the highest point in the sky for that day. The bi-hour could work well for me. I already mentioned that I would prefer a two hour lunch break, or a two hour absence from the desk. Similarly a dinner is a two hour window for me even though most places want you out in about an hour. Within work there are meetings and other deadlines scheduled at half-hour marks, but frequently the efforts will extend to fill two hour blocks. Unless there are back-to-back meetings, there is time spent preparing and time spent to follow up on questions.

It might be interesting to have the standard twelve hour clock with the arms just operate half as fast. I still think there is a need for scheduling at half hour points, and those would have to be redefined as quarter hour points. I started to notice these already appearing on my calendar toward the end of my last job. I think we could adapt to that.

So far, I have refined a time system by doubling everything: the hour, the day, the week, and the year. I do not see a need to double the minute or second. These remain useful to me. This leads to the prospect of a 120 minute hour, and that is awkward. I would propose something similar to how we divide the day into an AM and a PM: ante-meridiem and post-meridiem. The hour could be 60 minutes ante and post mid-hour.

I would be more comfortable with an updated system that doubles the concepts of everything above an hour. From my own experience the current system is running too fast. This is probably my own problem in that I prefer a slower pace. But, I think it is beyond myself. The rhythms of life and nature appear to be happening at intervals that are twice what we are using. Our time keeping is rushing life, and for the most part, the life is not trying to keep up. The natural rhythms often are occurring in bi-periods, or half-time.

I notice this as I am walking through town. I am walking at what I feel is a natural pace, and it is certainly a comfortable pace. At this pace, every other pedestrian passes me so that after walking a block they are already and extra block ahead of me. My blocks are twice as long as other’s blocks. I’m fine with that.


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