Unix Time Presence Reminder

It is now a moment.


Unix Time is a way of representing the current time: the number of seconds elapsed since January 1, 1970, UTC. This format is used in many computer systems.

This page can send you a notification whenever unix time rolls over to a multiple of one thousand.


I thought it would be easy to make this. It thought that it might be interesting. So I made it.

It has, indeed, turned out to be interesting.

My original goal was to constantly remind myself to be in the present moment, and the idea of unix time came from thinking about Islamic prayer routines, and the feeling of “we are all praying together.”

As a result of using this notification while I’m at work, however, I think I have permanently changed how I think about time.

Do you get a feeling around New Year’s eve, when you think about the present, the future, and your life? I’ve always associated seeing the year roll over with a strong sense that time is passing and the world is changing. Every-day time – minutes, hours, days, weeks, months,- is cyclical. Today is Friday, March the 15th. It’s a little after 9 PM. There will be many more Fridays, many more March the 15ths, and many many more days when it’s a little after 9 PM.

Today, March the 15th is famous for being the day Caesar was assassinated. So when I woke up this morning, there was some history already associated with today, as if today had already happened. Today hadn’t happened, but it felt like it had.

There will never be another 1552710000. It’s totally unique, way more unique than March the 15th. Yet for all that uniqueness, it doesn’t feel like anything. It’ll almost certainly be forgotten. That’s one hell of a memento mori.

I’ve been seeing those ‘155’ at the start of the timestamps for several days now. That number, 155, is how these days feel, just like right now it feels like 2019, and last year it felt like 2018. You know that uneasy feeling, maybe towards the start of the year, when you have to mentally remind yourself that it’s a new year? I imagine I’ll feel that feeling again, once the 155 rolls over to 156, in early June.

When I first wrote this code, the next 3 digits were 201. Now it’s 271. It turns out that 100,000 seconds is around 1.1 days. Somehow ‘seven unix days’ feels much more irreversible than a week. A week is a cyclical measure. Unix timestamps clearly aren’t.

I see one of my primary goals in life as being to calibrate my thoughts – and my emotions – as close to reality as possible. One of the big theses of this blog is that viewing myself as a computational process has advantages in making my mind more accurately reflect reality.

You can ask a computer “Do you contain a file by this name?” and the fact that the computer says “yes” doesn’t mean the file truly exists. There’s a truth there, recorded physically on the file system, but we know that layers of software in the middle might get confused or mislead. Computers make mistakes, in many of the same ways humans do. It isn’t uncommon for a computer to have an inaccurate ‘beliefe’ about its internal contents. You can’t know if the file is really there until you can open its contents and inspect it.

I think people are the same way. You could have asked me before “Is time cyclical?” and of course I would have said “no.” Yet if you looked at how information flowed through my mental processes – if you looked at how i felt- I think you would have seen that most of the time, my internal processes represented time as being cyclical. “Today is friday, we’ll do the weekend, then monday the kids will go back to school and I’ll go back to work. This summer will be kind of like last summer, then it’ll be fall, et cetera.”

It’s as if the core representation I had in my head, of time, was a loop, like a record spinning around on a turntable wheel. Maybe the needle moves further from the center each time. Maybe I imagine more gray hairs next time around. The fact remains that with the vernacular time, the one-way torrent of causality, the irreversible flow, of time, still has a cyclical feeling to it.

I’m not going to say I’ve broken that loop. I don’t even think it’s incorrect for time to feel cyclical. There are rhythms and continuities in life that feel repetitive because they are. This experiment has just made it easier to access that feeling I get on New Years eve – the feeling that makes me that much more aware of the one-way passage of time.