Friends: Help! If the year is a circle – where’s March and December in your mind?

Wheel by PFNKIS at Flickr CC-BY

How would you have placed the months on a circle?

A few weeks back, a sheet of paper with a large circle, a couple of lines of text, and some pens, was hanging outside the workspace of the digital story development people here at NRK, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation.

Our colleague Vidar was asking colleagues to help him with a question he’s been grappling with for years – he is jokingly suggesting he’ll write an entire book on the subject when he gets old.

It all started at a previous employer, where he was assigned the task of designing a planning tool called a year wheel.

To his surprise, everybody seemed to have strong opinions on where the different months were located. So he tried to get some clarity by asking the following simple question:

If the year is a circle – where’s March and December in your mind?

Asking this revealed two fascinating things:

1: The number of people with opinions on where the months are

2: The amount of different ideas of what the year «looks like»

And also the fact that most people’s year rotated the opposite way of Vidar’s own.

Following Vidar’s question, the debate on what the year actually looks like has been raging here. At first inside the NRK on our intranet. Then we wrote an article very much like this one (only in Norwegian) with a questionnaire.

And then it blew up.

We’ve had more than 75 000 responses so far. Quite a lot for a humble tech & media blog at a public service broadcaster in a country with a population of around 5 million.

But Norway is a speck on the world map. We can’t really lay the subject to rest before we know what things looks like outside our small bubble.

Which is where we’re asking for your help. Can you please click on where you think the months are placed on a circle?

Vidar is not alone

For the record, I have to admit Vidar’s question wasn’t entirely new to me.

For years already, I’ve been painfully aware that my wife has a deeply dysfunctional view of what the year looks like. But I used to think it was only her.

Then a colleague of mine I’d previously considered to be a sharp thinker turned out to have a perspective on the year’s progress just as unnatural as my wife’s.

After seeing several different explanations, I was baffled by the amount of weird ideas about the year in circulation. Ideas bearing no resemblance to my own, self-evidently logical, clear, and correct picture.

So one weekend I chose to interview several different people.

A Family Affair

A couple with adult children, for instance. Among these four, they agreed in pairs on where December was. But internally they diverged on where March was. Which meant their years rotated counter to each other.

And not everyone in this family were equally open to considering a circular year – or even flat or two dimensional. After all; the shape of the year can only be properly illustrated using a finger in three dimensional space…

What did become evident quickly though, was that this family had spent little time synchronising their stories. Rather, they seemed to have been going through life without ever sitting down to have this important conversation about one of life’s central questions, and circling in the correct answer together.

So far, among the people I’ve been talking to, I have seen no clear patterns in age or gender. It could of course be because I haven’t spoken to enough people to find a system. But I’d need more data than I can get from interviewing people socially to conclude.

So let’s do this properly

Luckily, a change in our understanding is imminent. Systematic research is underway, courtesy of NRKbeta and our readers!

Already, we’ve asked the year-as-a-circle question to our Norwegian audience. We have gathered megabytes of data on what the year actually looks like for the Norwegian people. But we cannot stop with Norway; maybe our crazy-ass seasons give us a warped perspective. We have to ask the rest of the planet.

Can you please help us by clicking in the circle above, to let us understand where you believe December and March belong?

And if you have a few minutes to spare, and can complete our more detailed questionnaire as well, we’d be super thankful, because then we’ll be able to see if there are identifiable differences across the globe.


We’ll be back with full results on January 1st 2018.

3 kommentarer

  1. If people have a concept of what «time» is, this shouldn’t be hard. Since the beginning of time, we have used a round surface with a hand showing what time it is. Whether it’s a sundial or a mechanical clock, the concept of time as a circular face with a pointer made out of shadow or a spring- or battery-powered hand, is so ubiquitous it’s almost written into human DNA. If you have a differing concept of time than this, you must be alien. Clearly.

    A clock’s initial position is 12:00, which is top or «north» on the clock face. The hands on a clock move rightwards from the top, also known as «clockwise». Time therefore moves clockwise. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about nanoseconds, hours, months or years; time moves clockwise. Period.

    Since a clock face is divided into 12 hours and the year has 12 months, it’s self-evident that each month fall on the hours of the clock. January at 01:00, February at 02:00, March at 03:00, April at 04:00, May at 05:00, June at 06:00, July at 07:00, August at 08:00, September at 09:00, October at 10:00, November at 11:00 and December at 12:00.

    How can there be any disagreement over this? Perhaps children who haven’t learned how to tell time have an excuse to view this differently, but if you know how a clock works and are able to tell time, no other way to view this makes sense. Unless, of course, you’re alien.

    Svar på denne kommentaren

    • But it’s obviously not an alien concept to have other visual concepts of time, as this article shows, and especially – as the comments on the Norwegian article shows.

      It seems to be quite normal to have differing visualisations of time, also ones that are not based around clock faces, when people start actually talking about it.

      Of course other ways make sense (but not necessarily to everyone), of course we’re disagreeing, of course it doesn’t have to be related to knowing how a clock works.

      Check out the comments in the other article to read about all the «aliens» 🙂


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