How Clocks Changed Humanity Forever, Making Us Masters and Slaves of Time

in History, Technology | February 19th, 2015

In 1983, the Harvard economic historian David Landes wrote an influential book called Revolution in Time: Clocks and the Making of the Modern WorldThere, he argued that timepieces (more than steamships and power looms) drove the economic development of the West, leading it into the Industrial Revolution and eventually into an advanced form of capitalism. Timepieces allowed us to measure time in accurate, uniform ways. And, once we had that ability, we began to look at the way we live and work quite differently. Landes wrote:

“The mechanical clock was self-contained, and once horologists learned to drive it by means of a coiled spring rather than a falling weight, it could be miniaturized so as to be portable, whether in the household or on the person. It was this possibility of widespread private use that laid the basis for ‘time discipline,’ as against ‘time obedience.’ One can … use public clocks to simon people for one purpose or another; but that is not punctuality. Punctuality comes from within, not from without. It is the mechanical clock that made possible, for better or worse, a civilization attentive to the passage of time, hence to productivity and performance.”

It’s all part of the logic that eventually gets us to Benjamin Franklin offering this famous piece of advice to a young tradesman, in 1748, “Remember that Time is Money.”



You can find similar arguments at the core of this newly-released video called “A Briefer History of Time: How technology changes us in unexpected ways.” The video brings us back to the 1650s — to a turning point when Christiaan Huygens invented the pendulum clock, which remained the world’s most precise and widespread timekeeping device for the next three centuries. He wasn’t alone. But certainly Huygens did much to make us masters of time. And certainly also slaves to it.

via Devour

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  1. Pantelis Panteloglou says . . .
    February 20, 2015 / 1:04 am

    A flagship work on how the exact measurement of time led capitalism (and vice versa, of course) is this essay by British historian E.P. Thompson: https://libcom.org/files/timeworkandindustrialcapitalism.pdf

  2. Dirk TAVERNIER says . . .
    February 20, 2015 / 3:59 am

    What is Time?
    –by J. Krishnamurti (Oct 13, 2003)

    Do you know what time is? Not by the watch, not chronological time, but psychological time? It is the interval between idea and action. An idea is for self-protection obviously; it is the idea of being secure. Action is always immediate; it is not of the past or of the future; to act must always be in the present, but action is so dangerous, so uncertain, that we conform to an idea which we hope will give us a certain safety.

    Do look at this in yourself. You have an idea of what is right or wrong, or an ideological concept about yourself and society, and according to that idea you are going to act. Therefore the action is in conformity with that idea, approximating to the idea, and hence there is always conflict. There is the idea, the interval and action. And in that interval is the whole field of time. That interval is essentially thought. When you think you will be happy tomorrow, then you have an image of your-self achieving a certain result in time. Thought, through observation, through desire, and the continuity of that desire sustained by further thought, says, ‘Tomorrow I shall be happy. Tomorrow I shall have success. Tomorrow the world will be a beautiful place.’ So thought creates that interval which is time.

    Now we are asking, can we put a stop to time? Can we live so completely that there is no tomorrow for thought to think about? Because time is sorrow. That is, yesterday or a thousand yesterday’s ago, you loved, or you had a companion who has gone, and that memory remains and you are thinking about that pleasure and that pain-you are looking back, wishing, hoping, regretting, so thought, going over it again and again, breeds this thing we call sorrow and gives continuity to time.

    So long as there is this interval of time which has been bred by thought, there must be sorrow, there must be continuity of fear. So one asks oneself can this interval come to an end? […] Now if one is lost in a wood, what is the first thing one does? One stops, doesn’t one? One stops and looks round. But the more we are confused and lost in life the more we chase around, searching, asking, demanding, begging. So the first thing, if I may suggest it, is that you completely stop inwardly. And when you do stop inwardly, psychologically, your mind becomes very peaceful, very clear. Then you can really look at this question of time.

    –J. Krishnamurti

  3. MAJMike says . . .
    February 23, 2015 / 9:58 am

    What is time?

    Time is Nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once.

    FIFY.

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