Coffee with Mimi: What does ‘real time’ really mean?

Published 4:57 pm Friday, March 20, 2020


Community columnist

With quite a bit of unexpected free time on my hands, my mind has begun to wander.  Questions spring to mind. For example, what is “real time?” Sporting events can be followed in “real time” on an electronic device. Breaking news occurs in “real time.” 

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I consulted my Google machine dictionary.  With a little extra time, of whatever sort, I scrolled down to the references from good old Merriam-Webster. There were several possibilities to help me clear my thinking. 

 I won’t go through all of them, but you will get my drift — not one of the entries was satisfactory. Quite the opposite.The defined uses of the word in question strike me as more odd than clarifying under the circumstances. The first definition listed for the word “real” is, “having objective independent existence.” Further items under the same entry include, “genuine,” “being precisely what the name implies,” and “occurring or existing in actuality.”

Applying the various definitions for the word “real” in the phrase, “real time” now really confuses me.  If we don’t personally witness the event, does that mean it does not actually exist? Or, perhaps worse, the telling is not to be trusted from the source you are sitting with since you didn’t actually witness it firsthand.

 Maybe the key to understanding is the concept of time. So, maybe the time is not real. Are we to only trust events in our own time zone? What about the hours lost and gained during the increasingly annoying and useless time changes twice a year, whenever it strikes the governing bodies that they are to be placed on the calendar? Don’t you worry about those unfortunate residents of the stubborn and random counties in certain states, those who, despite the decisions of all those around them, refuse to adhere to the assigned lines on the map? Oh wait, some higher authority decided our beloved state itself would be subject to a bifurcated zone of existence.  

And don’t get me started on Newfoundland, Australia and a few others who use half hour time zone deviations. It gets worse in areas of Australia and Nepal with quarter-hour deviations from the standard of the Coordinated Universal Time.  Given that there are places on this earth which are not even on the same day as the good old US of A, can we believe what is happening there since it happened yesterday, or is it tomorrow, and it is 45 minutes from whatever hour and day? What do the residents of those places think about us and our goings on?

Let’s consider that old fashioned Merriam-Webster is just not up to the task in solving this vocabulary conundrum. Scrolling further down the screen, one will land on the urban dictionary. Not a typo; urban is spelled using lower case “u.”  Of course it is.

Real is an adjective and translates as a thing being exactly as it appears or claims to be. Real also describes that which is true to one’s self or others and free of any attempt to deceive or impress others.  It appears, therefore, that time is more than an inanimate method of representing, well, time.  

Are we to assume from that collection of interpretive possibilities that some hours and minutes are likely to try to take on an attitude of exaggerated self- importance if we are not there to keep an eye on them? If we watch a basketball game in real time, is the game more important than watching the DVR’d version at our convenience?  If we are present at the moment of the fabulous and successful half-court shot, is it a truer shot than the one I am seeing in the highlights reel a dozen times?

Maybe “real time” events give humans bragging rights. Ah, finally I may have hit on something of use in the discussion. If you witnessed the “real time” shot, you are clearly in a position to wax poetic about the event with editorial license, but I may not be as I could be interpreting the set of facts from a different angle not available in “real time.”  After all, I had time to ponder those zillion replays on Sunday morning. You, on the other hand, have been yacking about the moment for hours. In my opinion, the guy had his foot over the line, clear as day.  

In the interest of accuracy, I checked out the definition of “real time.”  Much ado about nothing, really. Being in “real time” just means you watched it when it was happening, live in person or on TV.  Big deal.  

To assure you I’m thorough, I checked out “non-real time.”  It is not pretend events, skewed events or fake events. I guess it could be depending on real human behavior.  An event or process in “non-real time,” or NRT, is one which does not occur immediately. An example cited is a communication such as a post which is created and scheduled in advance of actual publication.  

The difference between real and not appears to be the timing of the human response.  I have no idea which is preferable right now.