The Why #82: Why does it feel like 2019 was just last year?

3 min readMar 21, 2024

By Dan Monheit 22nd March 2024

Question submitted by Lauren, Cheltenham

I hear you Lauren, I swear it was just yesterday that we were complaining about the pathetic finale to Game of Thrones and hearing faint whispers about a crazy new cold going around. Yet here we are, five years down the line with nothing but blurry memories of ‘crazy hat Wednesday’ and Zoom drinks on a Friday. I feel ill.

For a species whose world revolves around time — scheduling coffee catch ups weeks in advance, counting the days until a vacay, setting alarms for a 6:00am pilates class, not letting a meeting run over by a single minute — you’d think we’d have a far better grasp of it.

But alas, here we are thinking it’s still late January and wondering why, oh why, we’re so bad at keeping track of time…

Telescoping Effect

The Telescoping Effect refers to our inaccurate perceptions regarding time. Specifically, older events feel more recent (forward telescoping) while more recent events feel further back (backward telescoping).

The term was first coined in 1964 by John Neter and Joseph Waksberg, stemming from the idea that time seems to shrink toward the present in the same way that objects seem to get closer when viewed through a telescope.

Over the years, there have been numerous studies on telescoping. Many of these studies involved participants jotting down events in diaries as they occurred and later being quizzed about when these events had happened. For the most part, people’s performance was abysmal.

One hypothesis to explain Telescoping Efffect is that the more salient a memory (your graduation day, that time you bungee jumped, the day your first child was born) the more recently we feel that memory occurred. It’s like the fact that we remember it so vividly tricks our brain into believing it must have only just happened.

For Challenger Brands, it’s worth considering that consumers have a hard time remembering when they last interacted with you. Reminding them how long it’s actually been since their last massage, pair of new shoes, bottomless brunch or eye test might be just what they need to head back in.

Behaviourally Yours,

Dan Monheit

PS If you missed the last edition, you can see why people cancel plans last minute here.

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