I can’t remember where I first heard about Deep Time Walk, but I do remember that it was in the spring of 2017, during the crowdfunding campaign to complete app development and move to launch. I finally got around to experiencing Deep Time Walk almost a year later, and so enjoyed my first time through that I did it again the next day!
So much about this app is consistent with how I try to live my life: it promotes walking, learning something new every day, creativity, and fostering a personal relationship with nature. Plus, it’s an immersive mash-up of science, technology and the humanities (i.e. STEAM, kinda like Beakerhead)!
The Deep Time Walk app invites the listener on a time travel experience – any time, any where. While walking 4.6 km in the virtual company of a narrator, a scientist and a fool, it’s an imaginary trip, 4.6 billion years back in time, to when Earth formed. Then each meter you walk takes you a million years closer to the present day.
At the end of the walk, the narrator asks you to stop and witness the last million years as the final meter of your walk. The last 20 cm (200,000 years) is roughly the time Homo sapiens has been on Earth. The most recent ice age (13,000 years ago) is just 1.3 cm. And the final 200 years (the breadth of a hair) is the miniscule time that has passed since the start of the industrial revolution.
How it Works
After opening the app and entering your height (so the app can estimate your stride length), it’s best to turn off all notifications and stow your phone in your pocket. In this way, the experience is an exercise in mindfulness.
From start to finish, the walk takes about 2 hours. Rest stops are built into the narrative. I walked at different times of day and on different pathways, and each time noticed things around me that related to the content. For example, the cloud and snow obscuring the sun needed just a bit of a colour filter in my imagination to match up with the description of the sun’s light shortly after Earth formed:
I expect my mind will connect things around me to specific points in the narrative every time I listen, even walking city sidewalks.
There’s a ‘mobility-assist’ mode so those not physically able to walk 4.6 km can simply enjoy listening to the Deep Time Walk audio.
I have yet to complete the Deep Time Walk in 4.6 km. First time through, I walked 10.5 km in 2 hrs 30 min. The second time, I walked 8.5 km in just under 2 hrs. Part of the extra distance is because I kept walking each of the five times the narrator invited me to find somewhere comfortable and safe to sit or stand for a bit of a break while the scientist and the fool had an extended conversation about something. And the first time, I opened my camera app to take photos, which seemed to interrupt the step tracking function in the Deep Time Walk app.
I also thought it was kind of funny when I stopped too long to frame up a photograph, the narrator would remark, “It’s time to get moving again.” 🙂
Throughout the Deep Time Walk, facts are conveyed in an interesting way. Topics include the formation of our solar system, geology, the emergence/evolution of life, and earth systems. I learned, for example, that when it formed, the Moon’s orbit was much closer to Earth than it is today.
The narrative sparks imagination. For me, that means making observations and connections.
I gained a deeper appreciation for how things like the magnetic shield, oxygen levels and acidity work together to create the conditions necessary for life; that there have been countless ice ages past; and that there have been at least two major extinction events.
The script includes thought-provoking and beautiful passages, such as:
You came from this!
Every one of your senses developed in relation to this Earth.
You smell because the Earth is smellable …
You touch because the Earth is touchable.
And you think because the Earth is thinkable.
You and the Earth are two ends of the same thing.
Only you can split them, by imagination.
Or rather, by a failure of imagination.
Failing to imagine what is actually the case.
– The Scientist
In addition to geology and biology facts, the narrative embeds concepts related to evolution and includes a discussion of Gaia in the context of Greek mythology and the Gaia hypothesis developed by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis. All of that helped me realize that by the time I finished, I had walked, on the Earth, the story of the Earth, from its formation right to present moment and got me thinking about how, despite our infinitesimal place in space/time, humanity has become a geological force.
There is a context-sensitive glossary that you can check at the time the particular term comes up in the narrative. But that goes against the instruction to put your phone in your pocket and leave it there while on your Deep Time Walk. I would really like this glossary to be available for study on a stand-alone basis, when not on a Deep Time Walk.
Where to Find It
The script for Deep Time Walk was nominated for the Ted Hughes Poetry Award in 2017. Also in 2017, it won the Best Mobile App award for design!
Deep Time Walk is available for purchase from the Apple app store and the Google Play store. I paid C$3.49 in 2017. The script has been printed in book format and there’s also an audiobook version, both available through the Deep Time Walk website.
A Deep Time Walk would be a great activity for Earth Day (or any other day). If you give it a try (or maybe you already have), please leave a comment to let me know what you think.