It’s been a tough week. I was lucky enough to evade exams, but a smattering of papers, meetings and readings ate up all my time. Between the stress of school and the confusing weather outside, I couldn’t help but pine for summer.

For the 10th straight year, I’m returning to camp in the summer. It’ll be my second year working in the camp’s trip center, where I’ll facilitate backcountry hiking and canoeing trips for campers ages nine to 17.

The trips I lead are the same trips I took as a camper however many years ago. If you were to tell 11-year-old me that I’d be a tripper (as we’re so affectionately called), I probably wouldn’t have believed you. My relationship with my summer camp’s trip program has been complicated, to say the least. Capsizing canoes and pouring rain didn’t exactly make for the most desirable experience. Still, a disproportionate amount of my memories from camp — especially those from my earlier years there — are from camping trips, a mere three or four days out of the 24-day session.

Perhaps the brightest memory I have from my trips as a camper is the way my trippers would respond to our pleas to know the time. No matter what point of the day it was, the time the trippers told us was always — infallibly — seven o’clock.

Obviously as an 11-year-old, this was not an adequate answer to this question. (Granted, telling 11-year-old me it was 5:45 when the time was actually 5:46 wouldn’t have been an acceptable answer.) It felt almost evil that they’d withhold the exact time — a seemingly harmless number — from us. It seemed the worst thing knowing the time would do was loan us some form of comfort or control.

My summer camp has since realized that withholding the time from campers on trips merely heightens their anxiety, especially for those campers who have never been on a trip before. As a tripper, I am no longer allowed to tell my campers it’s seven o’clock. But I’ve come to question whether or not this “ban” is a good thing.

Two summers ago, I read Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” which focused primarily on how technology changes discourse within a society. In the first chapter of this book, Postman uses the concept of time to argue how technology changes human perception and behavior. He argues that minutes and seconds never existed before the creation of the clock. The power of nature as timekeeper quickly subsided to these quantifiable measures of time.

I had never thought about our concept of time being based solely on man-made conventions before, and, by extension, I had never thought about the implications of such an unnatural mode of telling time. And while structured time may be necessary for societal organization and progress, perhaps humans were not meant to lead lives according to the point values affixed to seconds and minutes and hours.

Yet how often do we find ourselves obsessing over these arbitrary measures of time? As students, we’re constantly reminded of deadlines, meetings and lectures, rigid in time, dictating our every action. Even as I write this article, I fret over the fact that I only have 26 more hours to complete it, and between now and then I have classes to go to, meals to eat and homework to finish.

To compensate for the limited number of hours in a day, I often forgo opportunities to do things I actually want to do in order to free up more time for the assignments that demand completion by a certain date and hour. Instead of reading a book I’ve been waiting to read, I’ll work on an English assignment; instead of exploring Ann Arbor, I’ll practice chemistry problems.

Of course, I attend this university to receive an education, and I must do these things to rightfully earn my degree. I also find time to participate in activities I enjoy, but I can’t help but yearn for the days where I take out trips. When I lead trips, I get to break free from the constructs of time. The only deadline we have is the time the bus comes back to pick us up and take us home. The rest of the time we get to spend how we choose.

On trips, we eat not because it is time to do so, but because we’re hungry; we sleep not because it’s late, but because we’re tired; we act not because we feel like we’re wasting time sitting idly, but because we want to do so. When we forget about time, we allow our spirits to run wild and free. And as a result, the gratification we feel from our actions is amplified greatly.

As college students, we constantly try to find ways to fill our time, whether it’s catching up on a class’s reading or making progress toward our inevitable careers. In this, we often neglect that our college years are some of the last we have to do the things we’ve always wished to do without defaulting on our responsibilities. Soon enough, we will have jobs and families and other obligations to tend to on a daily basis. So why not take some time off and do the things we love without worrying about the passing hours?

I may not be allowed to say it to my campers this summer, but for me, it’ll always be seven o’clock.

Rebecca Tarnopol can be reached at tarnopol@umich.edu. 

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