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

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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Eco­nom­ics Cours­es

David Harvey’s Course on Marx’s Cap­i­tal: Vol­umes 1 & 2 Now Avail­able Free Online

“The Vertue of the COFFEE Drink”: An Ad for London’s First Cafe Print­ed Cir­ca 1652

The Mar­velous Health Ben­e­fits of Choco­late: A Curi­ous Med­ical Essay from 1631

Every­day Eco­nom­ics: A New Course by Mar­gin­al Rev­o­lu­tion Uni­ver­si­ty Where Stu­dents Cre­ate the Syl­labus

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  • Pantelis Panteloglou says:

    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:

  • Dirk TAVERNIER says:

    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

  • MAJMike says:

    What is time?

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


  • Abraham Joseph says:

    Clock time of the world has detached man from the time­less­ness of the fact of Exis­tence; clock time made man an earthling,another ani­mal with intel­li­gence! He start­ed think­ing that to make a liv­ing here,he must exploit Nature. Please see the fol­low­ing link to under­stand more about it:
    Dar­win added to this ide­l­og­i­cal tragedy,that man need to com­pete each oth­er for achiev­ing suc­cess, the one and only motive in life;

  • Joana Spinillo says:

    I’ve tak­en time to sit and think about noth­ing. It is dif­fi­cult to stop and think about noth­ing as time pass­es. Your mind still con­tin­ues to process thoughts as the sec­onds turns into min­utes then into hours. So time does­n’t stop just like your thoughts. As I sit here try­ing to clear my thoughts; time is still mov­ing.
    Who are we kid­ding; “Time” helps us shape our lives as we sit and think about our love ones we had once loved and now we are mourn­ing on the date and time we had loss them. Time helps us heal; as time con­tin­ues we do not for­get about the ones we lost but, the time we had with them.

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