Skip to content
Spiral clock illustrating the flick of time

In the Flick of Time

Jason Print

In the Flick of Time

» Article by JASON PRINT, CFP®, CO-PRESIDENT & CEO |  Featured in the March 2019 edition of The Rational Optimist™ | April 5, 2018

We all know Facebook has changed the way we communicate and share our thoughts but has it invented a new way to measure time?

Many of us will admit that we have come to expect things quickly.

Do you remember when connecting to the internet meant unplugging our land line phone, plugging that cord into our computer and waiting several minutes to connect to the internet?

Would you have the patience to do that now?

Of course, searching the web 20 years ago and searching the web today are very different experiences. Today, we can watch videos instantaneously.

Nowadays, are you willing to wait several minutes for a video of less than a minute in length to download?

It’s in the video world that the invention of a new measure of time comes into play as Facebook has invented a new unit of time: “flick.” A flick is equivalent to precisely one 705,600,000th of a second — larger than a nanosecond and smaller than a microsecond. It is meant to be useful to special effects artists and anyone else working in film or virtual reality.

Flicks cleanly divide each frame in a movie, TV show, or video game in an easy-to-read, easy-to-use number. According to its original inventor, Christopher Horvath, the term is short for “frame tick” which hints at its cinematic origins.

As for why Facebook needs a new unit of time, it goes back to the social network’s Oculus VR subsidiary and its larger bet on virtual reality. And for Horvath, formerly a part of the cinematic world at firms like Pixar and Industrial Light & Magic, creating flicks seems to have been a passion project for him.

Most movies are shot at 24 frames per second, which means that the film displays 24 still images every second in a rapid sequence to give the illusion of motion. Creators in video, film and virtual reality, therefore, need to work and think in split-seconds.

The math gets messy when you try to work on one frame at a time. At 24 frames per second, or FPS, each frame is approximately .04166666667 seconds long, or 41666666.669 nanoseconds.

Those numbers with repeating decimals are not easy to work with. In turn, that can make life difficult for programmers and artists who are trying to work precisely at these scales.

That is where the Facebook flick comes in. It can represent a single frame at a nice, even number, at a whole variety of framerates. For instance, at the 24 FPS of most movies, each frame is 29,400,000 flicks.

At 60 FPS, seen as a desirable framerate for action-packed video games, each frame is 11,760,000 flicks long. It’s a clean number that can easily be divided or added up, without worrying about decimal points.

Facebook has actually released its documentation for the creation and use of flicks as open source, meaning that anybody can download it and add support for the unit into their own software.

Releasing it as an open source to let others write their own software could mean the fast adoptions by others. It’s interesting that Zuckerberg and other leaders at Facebook chose to release this as an open source, instead of attempting to monetize or trademark it in some way.

It also sets up the possibility that flicks could become a standard unit of time — if not on your wristwatch, then in the visual arts.

Over time we have seen technology change our world. New and exciting things are being developed and implemented every day. This day and age is an exciting one to live in. We look forward to embarking on new adventures with you and your families every flick of the day.