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Did You Know That You Don’t Have to Live Like a Permanent Slave to Time?


Hours, minutes and seconds are part of the modern capitalist rat race.

It was a clear morning of 1657 when Christiaan Huygens made one of the greatest and most definitive contributions to horology (the art and science of time measurement) in history by inventing the pendulum clock. Huygens won himself a place in physics and mathematics for his studies of optics (he scrutinized Saturn’s rings with telescopes he invented) but the real hit came with a modest spring that, with its swinging back and forth, drove a complex series of cogs and gears: the pendulum clock was born.

And if we stop to think for a second, for most of human history, time and its phases have been measured according to calendar systems of modest precision: people got up when the sun came up, worked during the day, took siestas, ate when their body demanded it and went to bed when night fell. During homo sapiens’ 20,000 years on earth, nobody had asked the time, nobody rolled up their sleeve to reveal a wristwatch, and nobody arrived “late.”

Before the invention of the clock, music was the most precise method of measuring cycles of time through sound registers, and which were mostly subjective: rhythms of variable time that musicians varied according to the indications of the composer: adagio sustenutto, allegro ma non tropo, etc. The invention of the clock allowed for a new era in the organization of time. People no longer went “joyously but not too much so,” but very early or very late. The advantage was above all for the economy.

When the first train stations offered their first arrival times (although with their usual delays), people no doubt thought it was marvelous that human activities could be planned with a predictable degree of precision. Like trains, ships and letters and people could move within a framework of time that was predictable, quantifiable and, above all, able to be budgeted. As Benjamin Franklin said in the 1740s, “time is money.”

The problem with all that is people gradually began to believe that they could seriously turn time into money and bosses used people as a complex system of springs, gears, pins and winders that fed the Industrial Revolution. Nineteenth-century technological development can only be compared with that of the modern day, as well as with the precarious and unequal conditions of the workers compared with the elite who profit immoderately from their work.

What do we hear when our alarm clock goes off in the morning when the house is silent or when, at the end of a corridor, a clock ticks with loud precision? Is that what time really sounds like? The danger of confusing clocks with time is that we fall into the trap of duration: eternity does not fit in a clock – human life is measured by instances of logical, and not chronological, duration. For most of our history, human beings have lived in harmony with the cycles of day and night, with the seasons and with nature. For the last three centuries we have run to make a time (a minute, a second) that always seems to be ahead of us.

Wouldn’t it be better to remember that we are closer to animals than machines and rediscover our humanity in the duration of our experiences, and not in their budgets? Is it more irrational to behave as cogs in an oppressive system or as beings tuned to earthly duration?

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