10, 9, 8, 7…

Sometimes countdowns are appropriate and sometimes they are not. Blastoff for a rocket? Yes. Farting? No. Picking up a heavy object with someone else? Yes. Watching a muscular man you do not know bench-pressing at the gym? No. Synchronized skydiving? Yes. Synchronized orgasms? No.

Regarding the most widely observed countdown, the countdown to the ball falling in Times Square in New York, I make the following humble suggestion:

Rather than counting down, “…5, 4, 3, 2, 1…”, I suggest we count up “…-5, -4, -3, -2, -1…”

This way, it’s okay if you accidentally keep going because you’ll continue “0, 1, 2, 3…”, and you can say you were counting how many seconds have passed in the new year. If someone asks why you’re doing that, tell them you forgot your watch.

This method has the advantage of a nice rhythm. My New Years have mostly been celebrated with large, intergenerational groups of white people, and while they’re pretty good with numbers, they’re not so great at keeping the beat. A typical mass countdown has started out with a big, unified “TEN!”, but by the time we get to 7, we’re so out of sync that the word comes out sounding like a bookcase full of dad’s Tom Clancy and mom’s Danielle Steele crashing to plush carpet, much the way our bright New Year’s dreams about weight loss and learning a foreign language will crash two weeks later. It only takes a tenth of a second to say “four”, and there is too much downtime before “three” for us to know what to do with. Throwing in “negative” fills up the dead space. Advanced groups of counters can split up, half saying “negative” and half “minus”, for a nice hemiola pattern.

Counting up represents looking ahead with anticipation. Counting down represents looking back with relief that it’s finally over.
Which do you prefer: “Oh no, there are only four seconds left in this year!”, or, “Hey, we’re already negative four seconds into next year!”?

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