ScrimismsPresently suffering a dearth of witticisms
Musings13 Mar 2010

Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time,’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to.’

- Lao-Tzu. (At least, it’s usually attributed to him, although I so far haven’t been able to find that particular idea in Tao Te Ching. Of course, there are a million different translations of Tao Te Ching, so who knows. I like it anyway, regardless of who actually said it.)

I have a proposal: let’s all wake up an hour earlier than usual. Let’s eat breakfast in a fog, put on mismatched socks, and go to work an hour earlier. Let’s break for lunch before we’re hungry, and let’s knock off an hour earlier in the afternoon. It’ll give us more daylight hours to enjoy after work.

Could you imagine what it’d be like if someone actually made this proposal? It would be hard to get anyone else to play along. And, supposing the idea did catch on, you’d eventually get to an awkward stage where half your co-workers showed up an hour earlier than you (or an hour later), and it’s extremely hard to organize a group for lunch. And even if the idea really caught on, there would still be hold-outs, call them the True Nooners, who would stubbornly resist changing their schedule after everyone else had long ago adapted to that 6:00 am wake-up.

And yet, this is exactly what is going to happen on Monday, with all the attendant grumbling and traffic accidents. Daylight Savings Time begins tonight. The brilliance and tyranny of DST is that it bypasses the messy process of trying to get everyone to agree on something, and just flips a digit on the clock. And because we’re used thinking of The Clock as an immutable external force that must be obeyed, we go along with it. It never even crosses our minds that the whole thing is just a convention we have tacitly agreed to follow.

There’s probably a lesson here about how easy it is to manipulate people into doing things, if only you can find the right artificially-created (and thus, easily changed) concept to fiddle with. In this case, we’re being manipulated into something basically harmless, but Daylight Savings Time serves as a reminder that we can be easily thus hoodwinked. This is the danger of living too comfortably with abstractions: 12:00 noon is now quite divorced from the real phenomenon of the sun at its highest point in the sky, but because we live by the clock (the abstraction) and not the sun (the concrete thing), we don’t even notice the disconnect.

Abstractions are useful and all—having a standardized system of time sure makes scheduling that lunch meeting easier—but we should also remember to keep an eye on reality.

2 Responses to “A Temporal Proposal”

  1. 13 Mar 2010 at 7:40 pm Rob

    We’re totally eating lunch at 1pm on Monday, aren’t we?

  2. 14 Mar 2010 at 9:43 pm Ian

    Hmm, perhaps.

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