Clock punching

Good to remember that something as “natural” as time is not so natural…

The failure of France and Russia to radically alter the calendar to suit their national requirements has to be appreciated in the context of changes in time reckoning associated with the smaller temporal units that had taken place across the world since the Middle Ages. The 24-hour day, divided into equal hours and further subdivisions, which existed alongside unequal hours (hours that vary in length depending on season) had been well established across the globe by the time France attempted its reform. This machine-based rationalized 24-hour system measured a time whose subdivisions were based purely on convention, a time that operated independently of the variations that were the mark of planetary cycles. Precision rather than compromises of integration came to be the mark of a good clock. By the time the French sought to revolutionize the calendar, this other revolution in time reckoning was sufficiently advanced in its socioeconomic permeation to make that change seem superfluous and for it to be experienced as an inconvenience to be resisted.

The clock-time revolution, we need to appreciate, was a subtle one. It crept up on people, seduced them with the magic of a machine that kept time through night and fog, kept telling time come rain or shine. “During the first seven centuries of the machine’s existence,” wrote Lewis Mumford in his seminal essay on clock time, “the categories of time and space underwent an extraordinary change and no aspect of life was left untouched by this transformation.”

page 112 Time by Barbara Adam

Polity Press 2004

And this, from George Woodcock, which I found while googling for the Lewis Mumford essay, is good.


About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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