Fall Behind

November 6, 2002

It was the weekend before last when we became time travelers. It was easy. We didn’t need any ultra advanced technology, we needed neither the guidance nor assistance of Cronus to devour time for us”?nor did we require any other deity, and we didn’t need some artifact of recovered alien mechanics. All we needed was to change the displays of our clocks and presto! – we all traveled backward in time. Heck, my VCR even did this for me automatically. How simple it was for us to gain an extra hour of time, how unthinkably mundane it was for us to travel counter to the standard direction of time’s flow. Yes, it was the time of year, here in the season of Fall, to fall back an hour, to fall behind in time.

It is interesting to note that such an easy mnemonic, “fall behind, spring ahead” (or alternatively, but pretty much synonymous for the sake of argument, “fall back, spring forward”), has such a variety of possible meanings. The surface meaning is quick to our interpretation and understanding: it is Fall; it is the occasion to set the clocks back. We fall behind one hour during the season of the leaves’ decent from the trees. It all makes a perfect sort of sense, somehow. The leaves fall to the ground and we fall backwards through time, ending up one hour from where we had previously been. On the surface, this is the immediate and obvious prompt of “fall behind.” Yet, there are more ways to interpret this.

We certainly “fall behind” or “fall back” in the sense of a retreat from the coming winter months. If only we could become as some bears and tuck ourselves away for the whole winter season! But alas, the human world keeps on grinding through even the darkest and coldest of winter days. Hibernation, in the sense of a total and complete retreat from our daily affairs and waking life, is a luxurious option that we simply can’t afford; however, we do tend to stay indoors more often. We retreat from the outside environment that has turned a harsh and cruel hand against us. The icy chilling breath of winter wind is enough to drive most of us indoors, falling behind walls of shelter and warmth”?our retreat, and so escape, from bodily harm due to frostbite or hypothermia.

In a different sense still, we fall behind the closing of another year. Time races on ahead of us, and we plan for the coming of the new year. In less than two months our clocks and time keeping system will shift, roll over into the next year; thus, we fall behind the end because we are not in front of it. Put differently, we are catching up to resolutions yet to be made, to plans still vague, and perhaps, to some vision of a brighter tomorrow. At this time of year we stand behind the coming of the new. We prepare for the promise of what is yet to come: we get behind what we cannot yet see but must only anticipate.

In yet another respect, we fall behind in a manner that is not a fall at all, but rather, a reinforcement, a lifting up and supporting: we fall behind the dictum of the need to change the clock, and in fulfilling this need we support the impossibility of nonconformity. We fall behind the structure of social order. The requirement that we change the clocks that track and measure the progression of our moments does not”?and cannot”?in any way serve to undermine any aspect of the society that we live in. The changing of the clocks only reinforces the notion that we are not in control of our own lives, that we are not truly free. In our obedience of this ordinance we reaffirm that truly “they” are our masters”?this ubiquitous “they” control the very measure of our time. But it is not so much some infamous and malevolent “they” as it is simply an “it.” The “it” here being the structure of the society that we’ve created. In this sense, we are not at the mercy of some hostile group seeking to enslave us; rather, we are merely trapped in a control state of our own devising. We do not really need to track time with clocks, but it is our structures and institutions which need these devices. It is these same trappings which dictate that at this time every year, when the leaves fall from the trees, then we shall fall to our knees: falling behind the necessity to conform and reaffirming a type of absolute control that our own creation has over us.

Even those of us furthest out on the fringes of society, those of us who live somewhat outside the reality that our social structures dictate as the only reality, are participants in falling behind this required time change. No matter how far removed”?by choice or by circumstance”?we might feel or find ourselves to be, we must step in line, we must fall behind the consensus when the clocks change. In fact, there does not ever appear a way to escape this aspect of social control: as long as any of us need to relate to anyone else at what moment we will or must be where, then we are trapped in a mechanism of control. We are trapped in the prison house of the measure of time, a cage of our own devising.

And yet, it is not so bad really is it? This particular submission and enslavement to the way things are, the way things have “always been” (at least that is what some might be tempted to say), is painless. There doesn’t appear to be any immediate harm to falling behind, in the sense of getting behind, as in backing up and affirming, this convention that drives the hands and the digits of our timepieces. Time stops for no human, and yet, when the conventions of social control call for it, time moves backwards. Perhaps we all need to fall back on something. Perhaps if there were nothing to fall back on we’d simply keep falling forever, and for many, that is a terribly frightening thought. But then again, don’t we call such an occurrence a “free fall?”


b.e. hydomako is not sure whether his parents were human, and sometimes feels that the sun and the moon are his father and mother respectively (or vice-versa). He doesn’t have a belly button, and the operation to remove the alien implants is forthcoming. Sometimes he thinks that the world is a projection of some malfunctioning machine.

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