Vivek Haldar


It’s commencement–and commencement speech–season. The one that’s been on my mind the most this year has been Paul Ford’s speech to a graduating class of interaction designers. His unifying thread is our conception of time:

The only unit of time that matters is heartbeats. Even if the world were totally silent, even in a dark room covered in five layers of foam, you’d be able to count your own heartbeats.

When you get on a plane and travel you go 15 heartbeats per mile. That is, in the time it takes to travel a mile in flight your heart beats 15 times. On a train your heart might beat 250 times per mile…

… If we are going to ask people, in the form of our products, in the form of the things we make, to spend their heartbeats—if we are going to ask them to spend their heartbeats on us, on our ideas, how can we be sure, far more sure than we are now, that they spend those heartbeats wisely?

Turns out, heartbeats are a great unit of time for another reason: all animals have approximately the same number of heartbeats in a lifetime.

With each increase in animal size there is a slowing of the pace of life. A shrew’s heart beats 1,000 times a minute, a human’s 70 times, and an elephant heart beats only 28 times a minute. The lifespans are proportional; shrew life is intense but brief, elephant life long and contemplative. Each animal, independent of size, gets about a billion heartbeats per life.

I find that deeply poetic.