This Thing We Call Time

As clocks started ticking, we became more attentive to the passage of time, productivity, and performance.

Time Before Clocks

Can you imagine what the world would be like without clocks? How would you be able to tell what time it is? We haven’t always been reliant on mechanical clocks as they were created in the late thirteenth century. Before that, people used different forms of telling time such as sundials, candles, and hourglasses. But of course, our modern-day clocks are the most accurate because they are not calculated based on earth’s motion, rather, on the oscillations of atoms in a metal called cesium. But why are clocks so important?

Perception of Time

Time is certainly not a natural nor a concrete thing. We construct time by creating intervals in social life that interrupt the seamless flow of time and introduces order and rhythm to our lives. This explains why Monday mornings have a different feel than Friday afternoons. It’s not about what day it is, rather, what generally happens on this specific day. The experience of time is also relative to one’s occupation, gender, age — or culture as a whole. People with no sense of or hope for the future tend to get in so much trouble because they view each day as their last.

  1. Pendulum — time goes back and forth, representing alternation of day and night.
  2. Cyclical — time goes round and round, representing the return of seasons.

Time and Language

Believe it or not, the structure of our language highly affects our notion of time, specifically grammar. Take the Hopi language, for instance. It lacks the past and future tense, therefore, Hopis can’t differentiate between past, present, and future. Everything exists for them in the present. They can’t establish a deadline for things because they can’t envision the future.

Industrial Time

Because our culture is dominated by machinery, we live in such a mechanical sense of time. This goes all the way back to the sixteenth century when Max Weber’s protestant ethic fueled the beginnings of capitalism. This ethic discouraged the luxurious lifestyle and encouraged savings. The protestant ethic and the industrial revolution made people change their perceptions of and in relation to time. Time became a commodity that should be taken advantage of, rather than a medium that is meant to order our lives. Work began to be plotted against the clock and employees were paid per hour. This gave rise to “time is money”. Time is no longer passed but spent.

Time is Precious

The reason why we always feel we don’t have enough time is because we’ve been taught that time is very precious and that we should make the best of it. As clocks started ticking, we became more attentive to passage of time, productivity, and performance. We want to progress and maximize profit in such little time, with extra work and effort. People are working more than ever before.

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