At a conference earlier this year and during some talks by visitors to my department in recent weeks, I noticed something. I heard, on multiple occasions, variations on the following two statements, each made by different people:
I published this in my recent paper in 2007.
I published this many years ago in my 2007 paper.
So, was 2007 like yesterday or was it a long time ago?
A reasonable hypothesis is that speakers of a certain age would think of 2007 as recent whereas the youngsters would think of it as a long time ago. There may indeed be some speaker-age effect on the observed phenomenon, but I have not seen a strong correlation between the age of the speaker and the perception of 2007 as being in the recent vs. distant past. Instead, I have seen (= inferred) a correlation between the productivity level of the speaker and the perception of the distance between now and 2007.
Those who have published many papers since 2007 think of 2007 as ancient history. Those for whom a 2007 paper was and still is a big deal (because there have not been (m)any other papers since then) think of 2007 as a recent date, not matter what the age of the speaker.
I further posit that these statements are most commonly made about a speaker's own publication(s). Publication years by other authors may be devoid of editorial opinion unless the publication was truly very recent (example: This paper by X just came out in Science); i.e., more a statement of fact than perception.
I do not yet have enough data to be entirely certain of these observations, but after I noticed a tendency for some speakers to editorialize about the distance between now and 2007 (or 2006 or 2005 etc.), I became obsessed with keeping track of these statements about time perception in talks. This post is motivated by the most recent of these incidents.
I have also been keeping track of the oldest publication date for which someone uses the word "recent". The record so far: 2005, though 2007 is by far the most common "recent" date.
And I wonder whether 2007 will be displaced by 2008 next year and fade into the distant publication past.
7 months ago