A clock is a simple device. It tells us the time, let’s us know how many hours we have left in the day. Yet, the clock has also achieved something more remarkable.
It has become a deity, an emblem of our devotion and slavish worship of time.
For the majority of human history, the concept of time was alien. We did not have the capability to accurately measure time. The day was dictated by the rising and setting of the sun.
We had no indication of the nuances of time, nor any need for it. Life was a more simple construct for our ancestors.
The irony is that as we have become more civilised, we have also regressed. Time dominates our lives in a way it never used to.
The majority of us have jobs where we are expected to arrive at a certain time. Arriving after this time is cause for concern.
Time has invaded every aspect of our lives. There is hardly any function that we do, which is not influenced by a time-keeping device.
It may appear that we have become masters over time, but we are unable to manipulate it to our will. In reality, we are slaves to time. Our every waking moment dictated by the ticking hands of the timepieces we display in our homes and wear on our wrists.
The Dawn of Time
Humans have always had a way of measuring time. Our ancestors used the rising of the sun and its setting as a natural basis for the beginning and end of the day.
This would advance further when the sundial was invented to provide a more accurate indication of time.
From here on, our understanding of time has become more and more in-depth. A major breakthrough came in the 1300s when the first mechanical clock was built. This allowed us to keep the time with oscillating timekeepers such as balance wheels.
It is at this point that our devotion to time begins to gain ground. Spring-driven clocks appeared in the 15th century, while the first pendulum clock was invented in 1656.
If we fast forward to today, our ability to keep time has become even more impressive. Through atomic clocks we have built clocks that are so accurate, they only lose one second every 15 billion years!
While these achievements are undoubtedly impressive, the question is how they impact upon humanity?
They provide us with a more accurate window into time and the laws of physics, but does this benefit the wider populace?
The ability to accurately measure time does not make a difference in our day-to-day lives. Instead, the fact that we measure time at all is an indication of the hold it has over us.
For all our scientific and technological breakthroughs in this field, each one causes us to sink further and further into time’s relentless grip.
We may be able to accurately measure time, but we cannot break free from the schedules we have imposed over ourselves due to these breakthroughs.
The truth is, we have become cogs in the very machines we built to tell the time.
Far from freeing us, the development of accurate time-keeping has restricted us. Our jobs have specific hours we must be sat at our desks. Our TV and radio shows are played at the same times throughout the week. The sports we love are all bound by the laws of the clock.
Today we are as much slaves to time as we are to our own schedules. We are woken by an alarm clock whether we are fully rested or not. We have to arrive at train stations or set off in our cars early to ensure we make it to work and school on time.
The penalty for tardiness is to be viewed with suspicion and to recover this time which is deemed as lost. The machine does not stop for anyone and in one way or another, we are all bound to the machine. There is no escape from the remorseless nature of time in our lives.
The ticking of the clock is something we cannot escape. We agonise over lost time, for once it is gone, it cannot be recovered. Stuck in traffic jams, our eyes flit back and forth to the clock to gauge how long we will be held in stasis, all the while, entranced by the appendage that has mastered us.
While we may be in homage to time, we are the true enemy. We have the power to change our ways, to not be beholden by the clock.
Our anxieties about lost and wasted time do not come from the clock, they come from us.
We rush around to get to our job, do work and chores and then spend the remainder of our time lazing around ‘killing time.’ This fast-paced and double life is one we have brought on ourselves because of our reluctance to confront our relationship with time.
The clock may dominate life, but it need not dominate us. Agonising over lot time is a fool’s errand, this situation is the same for everyone. Giant figures of the past, Marcus Aurelius, William Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln, all faced the same problem.
Time was as limited for them as it is for us now. Yet, they accomplished more in their time than most of us will today.
Will we ever break free from the chains of time? It’s unlikely, but we can re-evaluate our relationship with the relentless ticking of the clock and make it work for us instead of the other way around.
Only in this way can we truly master our time here on this planet.