Thoughts on work, God, and clocks

If we are to have enlarged leisure, in an automated future, the problem is not “how are men going to be able to consume all these additional time-units of leisure?” but “what will be the capacity for experience of the men who have this undirected time to live?” If we maintain a Puritan time-valuation, a commodity-valuation, then it is a question of how this time is put to use, or how it is exploited by the leisure industries. But if the purposive notation of time-use becomes less compulsive, then men might have to re-learn some of the arts of living lost in the industrial revolution: how to fill the interstices of their days with enriched, more leisurely, personal and social relations; how to break down once more the barriers between work and life. And hence would stem a novel dialectic in which some of the old aggressive energies and disciplines migrate to the newly-industrializing nations, while the old industrialized nations seek to rediscover modes of experiences forgotten before written history begins…

For there is no such thing as economic growth which is not, at the same time, growth or change of a culture; and the growth of social consciousness, like the growth of a poet’s mind, can never, in the last analysis, be planned.

– E. P. Thompson, from: Time, Work Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism, 1967.

I cup my right hand around my mouth and chin as I think. My eyes wander away from the keyboard and land in the upper right corner of my computer screen, where I read: Tue 5:57 PM. I lower my hand and straighten the watch on my left wrist to see 5:58. I’m reminded, somehow, that I’m hungry, and so my eyes rise to the microwave which tells me that it is also 5:58. My eyes stays in the same elevation as my head turns to the wall clock, which tells me it’s 5:57. My cell phone agrees on the coffee table: 5:57. I could turn on the TV and the announcer on ESPN would tell me that it’s about 17:57 in South Africa. On the other side of the kitchen counter, the coffee maker would contest: no, it’s 4:45.

I breathe a grateful sigh. I’m unbelievably relieved that I now know what time it is. I, then, continue blogging.

Clocks, as E. P. Thompson states earlier in his article, became a commodity in the 18th century industrial revolution. First, they were a luxurious addition, but thanks to smuggling and imitation, they were available to workers and farmers. They were placed in factories; sometimes, the factory workers were not allowed to bring their own watch, nor were they allowed near the official factory clock for fear of dishonesty when in came time to leave their work.

Never had I ever wanted to know what time it was at 5:58 pm, but it came about like breathing; subconsciously. Clocks are everywhere. Our bosses tell us to worship their value, but when our work is dull, our only escape route is by looking at the clock. Our self-help books tell us to take time for ourselves and stop worrying about the time; so then we ask ourselves, “Great! At what time can I fit that in?”

For me personally, a clock receives more attention throughout the day than a single thought on God.