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How mankind became a slave to the clock

2023-10-06 18:26:00, Kuriozitete Jonny Tomson

How mankind became a slave to the clock

My 3 year old doesn't understand time. And I am not talking about "time" in the Einsteinian concept, but about the basic units of time. He doesn't know what minutes or hours are. "For him, 'yesterday' could be the day before, or it could be in the month of April." When he asks how long he wants his soup to cook, I tell him: "A little."

The problem is, I've found that "little" is an inappropriate descriptive word. That's why I took up the use of comparisons. I tell him "It takes as long as a shower", or "It takes as long as an episode of the animated Spiderman series". I still don't think he gets it, but at least I'm trying.

What I'm doing is not unique. Thousands of years ago, people lived without clocks, so there was a time before time. And they did exactly what I do with my little boy: they used metaphors. For example in England during the Middle Ages, people had a measure of time called "Pater Noster Whyle", which was the time it took to say the Lord's Prayer.

Until the late Middle Ages, people did not think of time as something separate from the work they did. Mowing the grass on the lawn would not take "half an hour". It would take time to mow the lawn. Historians tend to call this a "task-oriented" lifestyle. This means that time was seen in terms of how long the task took. It was not divided into hours, minutes or seconds.

As Oliver Burkeman says in his book "4 Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals:

"You milked the cows when they needed milking, and reaped the crops when it was harvest time. And whoever tried to impose an external plan on these things, for example trying to reap faster, would rightly be considered a madman."

Before the invention of the clock there was no 9 am to 5 pm work schedule. The work was considered done when the crops were harvested and taken to the designated place. Most people were expected to work around the clock, which meant long working days, 10 hours in summer and 8 hours in winter. There was no rush to complete a task due to some artificial time constraints.

How mankind became a slave to the clock

Industrialization and clock slaves

Today most people work in office jobs or in factories. If you are going to hold a meeting in a certain room with certain people, saying "Let's meet after lunch" is too vague. It is difficult to catch the train if you say "after I brush my teeth" or watch a movie in the cinema "when the sun goes down".

As Europe industrialized, it was generally held back by the task-oriented flexibility of agrarian life. The first major corporation to regularly use the clock was the British postal service, followed by train companies. But before long, everyone saw the benefit of living by the clock.

Without a clock it was difficult to coordinate factory workers. Production and efficiency required an hour. When studying the history of ideas, it is often easy to project your own life onto the lives of previous generations. Without the clock, it is hard to imagine how society managed to move forward.

Conversely, to a medieval farmer, our life today would seem completely alien or dystopian. Watches have completely changed and reoriented the way we see the world. For this, it is enough to think about how often you check the time on your phone or wristwatch. Your life is run by the clock.

It seems as if we have divided our lives into small blocks and placed parts of ourselves inside them. The clock never lies and we must not be late. However, sometimes, we have to break away from it. Not everything in life has to be divided into neat segments, like a day's lessons at school. Every once in a while, we have to tell people that a certain job “will take as long as it needs to .” / “ Big Think ” - Translated and adapted by CNA

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