April 26, 2013

Werner Braun: The relativity of time

— Time. It’s something we all have, but whether we feel like we have a lot of it or just the tiniest little bit is always a bit “relative,” is it not?

Recently, I was thinking about the relativity of time — not so much the concept that Albert Einstein made famous, but in a more personal sense — when I had one of those incredibly frustrating sleepless nights.

You know the feeling. You wake up in the middle of the night, glance over at the clock and read some random time such as 2:20 a.m. You try your best to go back to sleep. After what seems like 30 minutes, you look back at the clock and are amazed that only five minutes have passed by.

It made me recall times in my childhood when how quickly time passed, or didn’t, depended almost entirely on the situation I was in.

The minutes spent in the dentist’s chair (those were the days of painful dentistry, as you may recall) always seemed like hours. Those early memories of painful fillings and the sound of buzzing drills have stuck with me, and make the time in the dentist’s chair crawl by for me even today.

On the other hand, when my barber, Mr. Chuck, is giving me a scalp massage, I lose all track of time.

I can recall all sorts of memories during my youth that have to do with the passage, or “perceived” passage, of time.

One of my earliest memories dates to when I was four years old boarding a plane in Stuttgart bound for my new home in America. I remember a U.S. Army master sergeant handing me the most gigantic Hershey chocolate bar I’d ever seen. It seems like yesterday.

But when I was 15, I thought the day would never come when I’d turn 16 and could get my driver’s license. It was the longest year of my life.

I can remember the nine months of an average academic school year flying by during most of my childhood and youth.

But when I think back to when Mary and I found out that we were expecting a baby, those nine months of anticipation seemed like an eternity. I’m sure they seemed a lot longer to Mary. But now, in just a few short weeks, Marylyn will head to Valdosta State. Where have those 18 years gone?

By far the longest 15 minutes of my life were spent at Hamilton Medical Center. I was admitted with a kidney stone. Those of you who have suffered from one know exactly what I’m talking about. If you don’t know, be glad. When the drugs kicked in, I had a new appreciation for the phrase “Better living through chemistry!”

I guess you might say that I’m a bit obsessive about time. Most of my friends and family know this about me, yet there have been many times when I have driven my family to exasperation.

For example, I only begin to feel comfortable when we get to the airport not two hours, but three hours, before departure time.

All in all it’s clear that the old familiar adage we’ve all grown up with is so true: “Time flies when you’re having a good time.” When things are going well on all fronts, time seems to pass quickly, sometimes too quickly.

But there’s another side to that coin. When things are not going well in our personal lives or in our business careers, time can pass all too slowly.

During the last decade or so in our hometown, we’ve had a lot of what I would call “slow time.” The economy has been bad.

In the recent issue of Business Analytics, a publication of the Center for Economic Research and Entrepreneurship of Dalton State College’s School of Business, Marilyn Helms, a management professor, was quoted as saying, “Dalton’s major manufacturing cluster, the tufted carpeting and floorcovering industry, has been through a tough business cycle.”

Truer words were never spoken. But that’s not the end of her quote. She goes on to say “but the future looks bright.”

And Dalton State’s Robert Culp, an assistant professor of economics who has been analyzing trends in manufacturing jobs in the region, has concluded that “growth in Northwest Georgia should continue and even strengthen as the economy recovers.”

These are positive “forecasts” for us and for our industry, and should bode well for “faster” times to come.

I believe that in the near future, we’ll see busier times in our industry, we’ll see the growth of new jobs, and we’ll see the development of new neighborhoods and houses.

And then time will, once again, start to move more quickly. Time flies when you’re having fun.

Werner Braun is president of the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute.