History of Time

How Time Became a Stressor

Excerpt from ‘Parenting Under Stress’, Trafford Publishing, by Maha Broum, Ph.D.

We complain there is not enough time in the day. We run late, rush to catch up to our schedules, and have long work days. For tens of thousands of years, people did not have clocks and did not keep time the way we do now. So what happened that we became under the stress and pressure of not having enough time?

In earlier societies that relied on hunting and agriculture, times of the day, months and seasons were defined by reference to astronomical factors such as the sun and the moon. Nomads and farmers measured their days from sunrise to sunset and their year from seedtime to harvest, in terms of the falling leaves or the ice thawing. The measure of time was cyclic, not linear. To the ancient Greek, Chinese, Mexican or Arab, time alternated of day and night, and the passage of season to season. Older devices of measuring time were approximate, inaccurate, and unreliable.

Modern time keeping is linear which adds a year to previous years, ‘thus creating a process of looking at the past and aspiring for a better future…’ The clock dictates a person’s movement and actions, and inhibits other movements. Time keeping turns time from a process of nature to a commodity that is ‘measured, bought and sold like soap’. ‘ Charles Einstein sees that ‘A linear measurement of time is a major source of stress, anxiety, and insecurity and has, as a consequence, the abstract future. When nature provides everything in abundance, there is no need to worry and plan for the future. But modern mentality is time-bound, where we always have to do something to increase our future security. We feel that things are never ok the way they are when life is a struggle for survival. We deeply believe that without the abstractions of future and past there would be no progress. However, progress need not be unnatural and destructive.’

Before the industrial revolution the focus was on completing a task at one’s own pace and time. People were in control of their time and worked irregular hours depending on the task. As long as work was done, things were good. The industrial revolution started a strict measure and discipline of time. Time was regulated as a tool to measure productivity and to pay wages. The goal was to achieve high productivity in the shortest time. Benjamin Franklin said: ‘Time is Money.’

Private ownership of clocks became common in the 17th and 18th centuries. The ‘protestant work ethic’ became associated with this new invention of the clock in Protestant areas in Europe, such as Geneva, Bavaria, the Netherland and England, where people focused on the development of this new tool. Nineteenth century religion and morality made all this ‘productive’ value of time acceptable and moral, and proclaimed ‘wasting time’ a sin. Mass production of clocks made people time conscious, and punctuality is held as the greatest virtue in church, schools and at work. Failing to conform to these ‘moral’ rules has been faced with social disapproval and economic ruin by losing job.

With the development of clocks and the accompanying time discipline, modern communities fell under the tyranny of time and people are now forced to work nine to five or go to school and follow a rigid schedule. Individuals become obsessed with tracking time making use of every minute of the day, and relying on multitasking. People treat their bodies as machines. Currently, it is widely acceptable to have hurried breakfast, to rush and catch the train or bus, to work on schedules and deadlines without paying needed consideration to the digestive and nervous disorders that ruin health and shorten life. The criteria now become quantity rather than quality: ‘More is better’, ‘Faster is better’. The joy is taken out of work where we spend most of our time.

Time measurement accelerates human separation from nature. Dividing the day into units, an artificial process made by human, makes time ‘objective’. In nature, time is not divided equally and the relation between day and night is always changing. Clocks turn time into a standardized part of the world machine to facilitate the engineering of the world. The alarm clock is an intrusion of socio-economic time into their natural sleep cycle.

Another intrusion in the natural body cycle is Daylight Saving Time (DST). Humans want to control nature to their ends and interests. Electricity and artificial lighting ended our dependence on the weather and made daylight insignificant to measuring time. The digital clock that replaced circular clocks obliterated the last remaining link between time and nature.

Industrial societies are time-conscious. North Americans have a future orientation. Tomorrow is more important. We plan events, and plan for our future, we have schedules and appointments, classes, work to hand in, even our favourite show on TV becomes a source of dominance and stress. The clock is supposed to help free people by a smooth running of society, coordinating activities, and reducing unnecessary labour to a minimum. Reality is: The clock dominates us. We become slaves to the clock, especially the alarm clock which wakes us up every morning to rush through life. In fact, quite a few people express their anxiety about getting sick, and believe they can not afford to take a day off work.

Time perception is learned: We teach kids the importance of being on time to fit in society. What we are doing is teaching our kids how to be slaves to time. ‘Every child learns a time perspective that is appropriate to the values and needs of his society.’ (Guerrero, DeVito, & Hect, 1999) In his book, ‘The Ascent of Humanity’, Charles Einstein says:

“Not only do we make ourselves slaves to schedules, but also our kids who live life according to others’ plans. In modern society we are too busy to do anything self-fulfilling, to do anything we like or dream of, to spend an hour looking at the cloud, or play with kids, to be human. There is a widespread anxiety in modern societies that there is not enough time. We must do something useful every minute of the day, and be productive. We cannot afford to be sick or to have leisure time. The expectation is that we need to exercise more control over the world to enhance comfort and survival. We schedule leisure with other commitments and thus lost our primal right to our own time.”

Einstein adds: “The pace of modern life continues to accelerate, and we extend this regimen to our kids starting with the hospital visit of the newborn. Children’s days are endless with scheduled school and busy afternoons with programmed activities; children are too busy to play. The reason comes down to survival anxiety. Play is luxury, frivolity left to fill in a gap within productive, educational, and developmental activities. The competitive demands of adulthood dictate that no minute is wasted in play when this time can be used preparing for the future. We think that play is time off, so we train kids to learn good study habits, good work ethics. We raise our voice because of time pressure and when they do not cooperate.”

We do not believe that play is good or important. We think it is only for the lucky few, the artists and geniuses who get to do what they love. The fact is: genius is the result of doing what you love. Discovering what you love is a very important issue, and childhood is just the time to discover it.

We always think we do not have time until it becomes a habit of thought and a way of being. Children resist scheduling, and to conform, parents use force. Children want to do what they like to do as long as it takes, but we are in a hurry, lose our patience and temper and raise our voice. When we slow down, we do not yell at our children any more.

The busy-ness of modern life is one of its defining features. In an effort to deal with the stress of time, people are taking courses in time management. In fact, the history of time management started with the industrial revolution with industrialists managing their workers’ time. Now we manage our time thinking we are in control but it is social perceptions of time that control our lifestyle and push us to manage time without wasting a minute. People also resort to multitasking as another tool to cope with the rush, but it has been proven to be extremely unhealthy. Stanford researchers have found that those who usually engage in multitasking exhibit cognitive deficits, are less productive and have trouble focusing on just one single task, often thinking about the task that they have left.

Being aware of the development of the concept of time leads to better quality of life and more enjoyable journey!

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