September 6, 2017

Getting Off Mechanical Time

Grandma had a Cronos clock on her mantelpiece - tick-tick, tick-tick... Time passed more slowly there.

The clock is one of the oldest human inventions. It is also one of my least favourite.

I have always dreaded the tiny tick of gears and whirring mechanisms, as well as the glow of digital time lords. One of my earliest memories is of sitting in my grandmother's neat and orderly living room. The only sound was the tick-tick of the clock on the mantelpiece. Wanting to be playing outside, a second passed in that living room much slower than a second running around out in the cool air of the yard.

For as long as I remember I have been trying to rip the hands off the time tyrant's mechanized time-bots. I am not built to live according to mechanically measured minutes. I am not a machine - I am an animal. I would rather rely on the internal biological clock, and the cues that nature constantly gives us.

"The mechanical clock dates from the 14th Century... The machine that mechanized time did more than regulate the activities of the day: it synchronized human reactions, not with the rising and setting sun but with the indicated movements of the clock's hands: so it brought exact measurement and temporal control into every activity, by setting an independent standard whereby the whole day could be laid out and subdivided. 
"The measurement of space and time became an integral part of the system of control that Western civilization spread over the planet.
- Lewis Mumford

Culturally, there are many, many different ways that humans experience time. Most are very different from our artificial and imposed time structure. My own belief is that things will happen when they need to happen. You can't organize a modern, capitalist organization with this particular view of time? Oh well.

Nature operates off the clock, the movement of celestial bodies probably being the closest thing to a mechanized, dependable schedule. Otherwise, things happen when they happen, without measured time. And it all seems to turn out fine.

What a joy to sleep when tired, and eat when hungry. We have dropped the usual designations for meals, because what do you really call it when you eat breakfast at 4:30 pm?

Now we just call them all "meals", or if we need to distinguish one from the other, "meal one", "meal two", and (if necessary), "meal three".

I like not knowing what day of the week it is (that's right, I have a problem with calendars, too). Sometimes it gets so good that I lose track of the month, while being lost in just being. Amazingly, things continue to happen in a somewhat orderly, if unpredictable, manner.

"If victory over nature has been achieved in this age, then the nature over which modern humans reign is a very different nature from that in which humans lived before the science revolution. Indeed, the trick that humans turned and that enabled the rise of modern science was nothing less than the transformation of nature and of their perception of reality. 
The paramount change that took place in the mental life of people, beginning during roughly the 14th Century, was in our perception of time and consequently of space."

- Joseph Weizenbaum

It is good to discover the joys of living an unmeasured life free from the endless sweep of Cronos' influence. Off the clock, time is no longer a destructive, all-devouring force. Rather than moving through fragmented time segments, like an endless staircase that only goes in one direction (toward death), one moves as if through a river.

Life flows effortlessly from one moment to the next. And the next...

To get off mechanical time is to free yourself to fully experience yourself as an integral part of the natural world. Beat the clock. Be free. Whenever possible.


  1. I used to be very tyrranised by the clock. Now I try to let go of it on weekends, and remember that there's always tomorrow to get things done. I'm still struggling with it though, due to that other invention - the 5 day work week! I always feel I want a bit more time for living but tick, tick, tick, it's Monday again and my rich home life has to wait.

    When I'm teaching my students (piano) I definitely feel the tyrrany of the clock. I would love to be able to just work with a student for as long as it takes for them to get the information they need. If they need less time, they go early and someone else gets my time. Wouldn't it be amazing if people were paid to get a job done rather than being paid by the hour? Think of all the time wasted in offices with people trying to look busy until 6 or whenever they are meant to be working - what a waste of their precious lives!


    1. Madeleine,

      I like to imagine what life would be like without measured time. No clocks, no calendars, no day timers. Only the clues of nature to tell us of the passage of time. I wonder how our experience of aging would differ in such an environment?

      Teaching music is good, life-enhancing work. It is too bad the clock has to intervene, but it does. How can you have time signatures without time?

  2. Anonymous9/08/2017

    Excellent point Madeleine! I think of all the time I wasted when working, just to seem busy. I could have been outside in the fresh air.

    What a luxury to not have to keep a man made sense of time, to be free to be.


    1. Marla,

      I think living without measured time is true freedom. It allows us to engage with life on a different level. That must be good, or why would we describe good things (like god) as "timeless"?

  3. Anonymous9/10/2017

    Clocks are our new masters to tell us when to begin and when to stop working. Clocks also add stress to our lives when alarmclock interrups our sleep and tells us to go to work even if it is not the most optimal time for us. All in the name of synchronized activities to achieve higher productivity and ever increasing growth of GDP. It is sad that nobody thinks about growth of quality of our lives ... We do not have much time on Earth so we should carefully think about what we are doing with our time.


  4. Mitja,

    You bring up a point I have been thinking about lately - standard of living vs. quality of life. Consumer countries tend to have a high standard of living, but a low quality of life. We aren't getting as much bang for our buck as we used to, and a lot of what we do is a total waste of time. Or a waste of "life", to see it in a non-temporal way.

  5. Anonymous9/29/2017

    Horology (the study of time-keeping) has its origins in astronomy, with the movements of the celestial bodies. From there mankind sought to record the cycles of the seasons that he didn't readily understand at the time, and we have things like sundials, stonehenge, mapping the solstices and equinoxes so that people knew exactly when to plant and harvest. Time-keeping goes deeper than "feeling oppressed" when the boss man tells you to stop watching the clock. Nature doesn't operate "off the clock", nature IS THE CLOCK. It is only human beings that use it as a tool of oppressive control. Humans and time-keeping are intrinsically linked; however, how else would you explain the "lunar cycle" of women (their periods), without using the word "month", which is a time-keeping term, that comes from the word "moon"?

    1. Anon,

      Nature IS THE CLOCK. Nature IS EVERYTHING. Linda and I have a been observing the phases of the moon for several years now, and measure her cycle by that rather than the calendar. We are measuring everything by these cycles.


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