Time Discipline (Wikipedia Article + Commentary)

We’ll all be turned into clocks!

Does the time bother you?

Well, it bothers some social theorists anyways. Especially in the ways it disciplines us and makes us much more restricted in how we spend our days.

Although the article on time discipline could use some (ahem) work (more references and citations for instance) it is still an interesting read if you’re just looking for some very rough basics on the history of clocks and the ways it has affected us throughout…time.

The article cites a Roman playwright named Palatus who wrote a great poem on time discipline:

The gods confound the man who first found out
How to distinguish hours! Confound him, too,
Who in this place set up a sun-dial,
To cut and hack my days so wretchedly
Into small portions. When I was a boy
My belly was my sun-dial; one more sure,
Truer, and more exact than any of them.
This dial told me when ’twas proper time
To go to dinner, when I had aught to eat.
But now-a-days, why, even when I have,
I can’t fall-to, unless the sun give leave.
The town’s so full of these confounded dials,
The greatest part of its inhabitants,
Shrunk up with hunger, creep along the streets.

For myself, I typically eat when I’m hungry, sleep when I’m tired and work on the things I want to and when I want to.

…But it’s not that simple of course.

Sometimes I’ll have to go to a scheduled event or I’ll have something online I have to do in a certain amount of time (like posting these pieces before 12 AM) and even though it’s a lot more flexible than maybe some other people it’s still under the pressure of time.

My sleep patterns are somewhat erratic (even for night-owls) but usually fall within a few hours of each other. For instance, I’ll usually go to bed around 4:30 AM or around there. But I typically only fall asleep when I’m tired but try to wake up before 1 PM so I can wake my partner up.

The eating I do in the day is pretty much determined by when I get hungry. I mostly treat my hunger as an obstacle to getting stuff done in a day than something I’m specifically trying to enjoy. I also tend to eat my food fast and even when I prepare food for watching something on Youtube or Netflix it almost never lasts as long as I’d like it to. So it just seems wasteful to try to get pleasure out of something that won’t even fulfill me in the end.

So yeah, I’m certainly less time conscientious than other people are but my days are still very much constrained by the time.

For instance, I almost always try to be on time to events and, if I can, even a little early if at all possible. In the back of my mind I often expect for events to start immediately on time according to when they say they’ll start. Of course, when I actually stop and think about it I realize this is ridiculous. But this is a pattern I’ve noticed within my thought processes nonetheless.

The biggest case of time disciplining me these days is when I need to catch a train or a bus. My transportation is limited so when I need to get into, say, Boston or somewhere else in Worcester I usually have to take a bus, cab or a train somewhere. All of these things (as the Wikipedia article points out) rely heavily on very synchronized time schedules that are fairly rigid(ish) and rely on stability and predictability, not to mention measurement.

Even given all of that though I certainly enjoy trains and public transportation generally. I’m especially fond of train rides because they give me some time to myself and can let me read or just space out and not think about anything in particular.

Here’s some more interesting historical commentary on clocks from the Wikipedia article:

The mass production of clocks and watches further tightened time discipline in the Western world; before these machines were made, and made to be more accurate, it would be pointless to complain about someone’s being fifteen, or five, minutes late. For many employees, the time clock was the clock that told the time that mattered: it was the clock that recorded their hours of work. By the time that time clocks became commonplace, public, synchronized clock time was considered a fact of life. Uniform, synchronized, public clock time did not exist until the nineteenth century.

To be clear, I don’t have anything against clocks or trying to keep things measured or accurate or precise. But on the other hand I think there are ways to try to make society overly reliant on measurement, predictability and other factors too much. Specifically to the extent that it makes society much less spontaneous and carefree about themselves. It ends up being that everyone must be rigorous and always attentive to the time and never the rules or ideas they create for themselves.

It seems to me that people could create their own customs or traditions from which to base their lives on rather than relying on highly rigid time-based scheduled Or, an alternative proposal could be to simply reform the way we understand clocks. Two major parts of getting rid of time-discipline to me are ending capitalism and and ending the state.

Without these two social systems being in place people would be freer to conduct themselves leisurely and by their own pleasures and interests rather than the ones dictated them by an overly rigid and authoritarian society.

One Wobbly slogan I was thinking about while writing this piece was the “What time is it? Time to organize!”. But what does this imply? That it’s always time to organize? Should our lives be based around labor organization and not much else? Surely that’s not the intended message but upon closer inspection and in accordance with some of the insights one can glean from thinking about time discipline I’m not as sure anymore that this slogan is as great as I used to think it was.

There, now aren’t you glad you spent your time reading this?

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