Sunday, June 12, 2005

NR: DC D7: Some TIME at the Smithsonian

6/12. So I’m at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History. Incredible place. I could spend days here. And realize that this is just one relatively small part of the Smithsonian Institute’s complex of museums. And then I get captivated by one relatively miniscule exhibit on TIME.

Whoa. TIME. This is the shit that I think about. It’s like a history of our perception and interpretation and measure of and control by TIME.

Like, think about this. Think about how long mankind existed without clocks and watches to regulate time. Our perception of time was based on the rising and setting of the sun, changing of seasons, phases of the moon, cycles of hunger and sleep, and the duration of events. Clocks, and their predecessor the sundial, are medieval European inventions. But our global obsession with time is principally an American fixation.

The economy of America was based on merchant trading in the Atlantic. Economic success depended on timely exchange. Time soon came to be seen as not only God’s order for the universe, but as a basis for profitable business. America produced millions of watches and the most precise clocks. American watchmakers redesigned watches so that they could be assembled from interchangeable parts with special machines by unskilled laborers. Even the Swiss—the previous top watch makers—began to adopt American factory-based watch-making methods.

It was the Industrial Revolution that transformed the making of clocks from a craft into a factory-based industry. Now everyone could afford a timepiece. People desired clocks as status symbols even when they could not tell time, or hadn’t the need to tell time. It was gradual that people began to tell time by “time of the clock” or “time o’clock.” As clocks became more affordable and more desired as status symbols, religions started adjusting routines and schedules to conform to clock time.

Soon people we expected to know the time – and we were held accountable for being on time. We began to sleep with clocks. We put watches on our wrists so we would know the time at every moment. Alarm clocks and wrist watches flourished in the 1870s and 1880s. Women wore watches as neck chains and brooches. Everyone had a “portable mechanized assistant for maintaining an irrational time discipline.” Time restricted personal behavior.

Well, in 1883 Americans came up with the idea of having TIME ZONES to create a “standard time.” And the next year the concept went worldwide. Yes, some countries refused to acknowledge standard time (at the time). The invention of the automobile and lights and telephones and moving pictures were INTELLECTUALIZING TIME and had us seeing that time is relative. We were constantly ORGANIZING TIME and we adopted the second to be the fundamental unit of time. All American ideals.

We also started EXPANDING TIME by introducing 24 hours restaurants and stores and thinking that “open all night” and reversed schedules (Rooster vs Owl) was the way to be progressive. But you have to realize that the human animal is diurnal—we are supposed to SLEEP when it gets dark. People with round-the-clock schedules risk chronic fatigue, ill health, and accidents.

Employers began to CONTROL TIME with master clocks, whistles, time stamps, time clocks, and the notion of “speedy efficiency.” Americans became obsessed with using time efficiently. Time is constantly divided up, measured out, and not to be wasted.

What’s worse, the incessant regimentation of the workplace and the spread of the fixed-hour workday heightened the distinction between labor and leisure. “It’s time for a drink” became the watchword of after-work in many urban and suburban communities. The cocktail hour--defined, ironically, in terms of the clock, and of limited duration—offers a ritual to mark the transition to leisure time.

Bet you never thought about this stuff, huh? So here’re some questions that the exhibit poses:

Do you have enough time?
Who controls your time?
What role does the clock play in your life?
Can you ignore the clock?
Why is the clock so important?
Is faster better?
Is patience a virtue?
When does time go by too fast?
What is your best time of day?
Are you ever out of synch?
How long is too long?

Of course SUN night I met up with Narcissisto and Alessandro and we hit the streets...not shit going on besides working girls and a random salsa party that we crashed.


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