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The Tyranny Of Time: A History of Clocks and Their Impact on Society

Core Concepts
The author argues that the clock is not just a tool for measuring time but a deeply political construct that benefits some, marginalizes others, and blinds us from understanding our own bodies and the world around us.
The history of clocks is intertwined with politics, imperialism, capitalism, and societal norms. The author discusses how standardized time has been enforced through colonialism and imperialism. The impact of clock time on various aspects of life such as labor, childbirth, climate change, and indigenous cultures is explored. The article also delves into the philosophical implications of clock time and its influence on human perception.
"During the British “railway mania” of the 1840s, around 6,000 miles of railway lines were constructed across the country." "By 1855, nearly all public clocks were set to GMT or “London time,” and the country became one time zone." "Clock time may have colonized the planet but it did not completely destroy alternative traditions of timekeeping." "In Xinjiang, nearly 2,000 miles west of Beijing where the sun sometimes sets at midnight according to BST many Uighur communities use their own form of local solar time." "Native American tribes around Lake Oneida recognize a certain flower blooming as the time to start plowing and setting traps for animals emerging from hibernation."
"The clock does not measure time; it produces it." - Jeremy Rifkin "Clock time is not what most people think it is. It was created, and it is frequently altered and adjusted to fit social and political purposes." - Kevin Birth "It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism." - Fredric Jameson

Key Insights Distilled From

by Joe Zadeh at 02-21-2024
The Tyranny Of Time | NOEMA

Deeper Inquiries

What are some examples in modern society where we can see how clock-time benefits some while marginalizing others?

Clock time in modern society benefits certain groups while marginalizing others in various ways. For example, the standard 9-5 workday and the concept of "office hours" are structured around clock time, benefiting those who work within these traditional hours. However, this structure may not be suitable for individuals with different chronotypes or those who have caregiving responsibilities outside of these hours. Additionally, the expectation to adhere to specific meal times and sleep schedules dictated by clock time can be challenging for individuals whose natural rhythms do not align with these societal norms. Furthermore, marginalized communities often face challenges related to standardized clock time. For instance, Indigenous communities that follow ecological calendars based on natural phenomena may find it difficult to integrate their temporal traditions with globally standardized time. Similarly, women's experiences during childbirth and pregnancy are often subjected to rigid clock-time measurements and interventions that may not align with their natural biological processes.

How has globalization impacted different cultural perceptions of time?

Globalization has significantly impacted different cultural perceptions of time by promoting a standardized approach to measuring and organizing temporal activities. The imposition of globally synchronized clock time has led to the erosion of diverse cultural traditions and temporalities rooted in nature. As a result, many indigenous communities and religious groups have had to adapt their traditional temporal practices to fit within the framework of standardized clock time. Moreover, globalization has influenced economic activities and labor practices worldwide, leading to a homogenized understanding of productivity and efficiency based on clock time. This has created a disconnect between natural rhythms and human activities, as well as marginalized alternative forms of timekeeping prevalent in various cultures.

How can we reconcile natural temporalities with standardized clock-time in today's society?

Reconciling natural temporalities with standardized clock-time in today's society requires a shift towards acknowledging and respecting diverse temporal traditions while also recognizing the practicality of coordinated social activities based on clock time. One approach is to incorporate ecological calendars and traditional temporal practices into everyday life alongside standardized clock-time systems. This could involve integrating natural phenomena such as seasonal changes, lunar cycles, or agricultural events into scheduling and planning processes. Additionally, fostering awareness and appreciation for diverse cultural perceptions of time can help bridge the gap between natural temporalities and standardized clock-time. Embracing flexibility in work schedules, accommodating individual chronotypes, and recognizing the importance of non-linear rhythms can contribute to a more inclusive approach to managing time in contemporary society.