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Patrick Boyer posits that time zones, which are artificial, follow political and economic priorities rather than the natural curves of Earth. This is consistent with daylight saving time zones being embedded within politicised motivations.

This week’s shift to “daylight saving time” is a reminder of just how complicated humans can make things when striving to impose efficient order by our invented constructs of “time.”

For starters, as the world’s second-largest country, Canada’s transcontinental geography embraces six artificial “time zones.” From east to west: Newfoundland standard, Atlantic standard, Eastern standard, Central standard, Mountain standard, and Pacific standard time zones put abrupt edges to the “time of day.” Starting from the “zero point” for time at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich (southeast of London, England), “Greenwich Mean Time” begins the westerly march of hours around the globe, marked off by meridians of longitude.

An efficient measuring system should take no account of seas or borders, cities or farming zones, but politics and economics beat neatness of lines. The 90th meridian, just west of Thunder Bay, being six zones removed from Greenwich, should be a time zone boundary but isn’t. The seventh hour west of Greenwich should start on the 105th meridian, running between Saskatoon and Regina, but it was set instead at the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border, the northern part of which is on the 102nd meridian, so all Saskatchewanians would live in the same time zone. From inception, compromises to accommodate human communities altered the measured boundary lines of time.

Meanwhile from south to north, we simultaneously accommodate nature’s own alternating seasons between the lush Carolinian forest in Ontario’s southernmost area and the high Arctic latitudes far above the treeline that bask in 24-hour summer sunlight and are cloaked with full darkness in winter.

Into this convoluted mix was then added daylight saving time. From the early 1900s use of this artificial construct, often called “Fast Time,” was encouraged throughout Canada on a voluntary basis. It’s under provincial jurisdiction, so across-Canada variety appeared. Even the “time saving” schedule itself was altered, from starting first Sunday in April to the second Sunday in March, and standard time no longer resuming the last Sunday of October, but on the first Sunday in November.

War changes everything. Daylight time was first imposed by edict in Germany on April 30, 1916 to conserve fuel for producing weapons in factories. Canada followed suit by 1918. After the war, Prime Minister Borden’s government heeded protests of rural MPs, including Muskoka’s Dr. Peter McGibbon, about daylight saving time’s adverse economic and social impacts. Farmers lost an hour’s work each day, because cows could not be milked any earlier and heavy dew on the ground made field work impossible. Ottawa repealed the temporary war measure. Provinces resumed control.

Urbanites had fewer problems with daylight saving time. Ontario’s abundant electricity for lighting, heating and operating machinery meant offices and factories no longer had to shut down with darkness, while street lights and electrified homes effectively extended winter’s days. But even people whose lives run like clockwork have diverse time-sensitive tasks to perform, so reaching consensus about altering the clock twice yearly remained challenging.

During the Second World War, Ottawa again invoked emergency powers to force daylight saving time on the entire country. After the war provinces resumed control, with a patchwork of mixed results. Saskatchewan contained three meandering time zones, which created such confusion the exasperated railways ran schedules on standard time year round.

The issue lives on. Last March, the European Parliament voted to permanently remove daylight saving time so, if implemented, 2021 will be the last time EU countries make the seasonal clock change. In November 2019, British Columbia’s government introduced legislation to scrap bi-annual clock changes, make daylight saving permanent, and rename the province’s zone “Pacific Time.”

What time is it where you are?

Boyer, P. 2020 “Excuse Me Muskoka, Could You Please Tell Me What Time It Is?” MuskokaRegion.com March 12 2020. https://www.muskokaregion.com/opinion-story/9880319-excuse-me-muskoka-could-you-please-tell-me-what-time-it-is-/

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Silvana Annicchiarico and Jan Van Rossem view digital clocks and timepieces as artificially separated from the time of the natural universe. Whereas the hands of a clock are in their impression a beautiful reproduction of the sun in the sky, timepiece design has transformed our relationship with time.

(…) Time expressed by the clock with hands was once a beautiful reproduction of the natural time calculated by the sun in the sky. On the contrary, today one of the characteristics of the digital clock is to communicate nothing at all of the universe. Perhaps they alert us to the fact that the essence of a timepiece no longer consists in displaying the course of natural time, but only of artificial time, artifact time.

O’clock thinks deeply about this transformation and the relationship between time and design. but this is not an exhibition with a historical approach. It does not seek to document the history of timekeeping diachronically, nor the relationship that the masters of design have had, over time, with instruments, from calendars to clocks, used for measuring time.

O’clock is meant to act as a synchronic survey of the possible relations that some contemporary objects or designs – beginning from about the zero of the new millennium – have with time and the problems connected with it. Thus o’clock appears not so much under aegis of kronos as that of kairos. It does not present a logical or chronological sequence of objects, but an aggregate set of exhibits by the type of perception it triggers, emotions it inflames, thoughts it sparks. Hoping that this can also trigger the occurrence of something in the visitor. (…)

O’clock seeks to give some answers to these questions, by way of enigmatic objects, aesthetic artifacts, ironic projects, playful, philosophical, mechanical, instinctive, existential observations or provocations on the notion of fleetingness.

Annicchiarico, Silvana, and Van Rossem, Jan. 2012. “O’clock. Time Design, Design Time at Triennale Design Museum, Milan.” https://www.designboom.com/design/oclock-time-design-design-time-at-triennale-design-museum-milan/

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Andrew Kimbrell characterises the time of most sports as restricted by artificial, mechanised time-frames that evoke industrial efficiencies and productions. Baseball conversely is closer to a natural time with no pre-defined end point on a clock.

A Celebration of Natural Time

“The Clock doesn’t matter in baseball. Time stands still or moves backwards. Theoretically one game could go on forever. Some seem to.” —Herb Caen, noted columnist

Baseball has no use for standardized, digitalized, mechanized time. The other major sports have strict artificial time frames reminiscent of efficiency-driven industrial production (as in “time is money”) or militaristic action (as in “synchronize your watches”). Football has four fifteen-minute quarters (and of course “sudden death”), basketball has four twelve-minute periods, hockey has three twenty-minute periods, soccer two forty-five-minute halves. Baseball, by contrast, is played in natural, not artificial, time. There are no seconds ticking away on scoreboards, no two-minute warnings, no buzzers or buzzer beaters. Actually, it isn’t just the baseball game that could continue eternally—each of baseball’s nine innings, in fact, each of its eighteen half innings, could theoretically go on forever.

In our hyperactive, ADHD world, this meditative, “real life” time element in baseball has been called its downfall. The game is too slow, we are told, for the modern age. Mary McCrory once wrote that “Baseball is our past football our future.” Let’s hope not. It is true that a baseball game can seem like six minutes of action crammed into two-and-a-half hours. Pitchers and catchers give, receive, or shake off signs; batters step out of the box; other players or coaches go visit the pitcher to give advice or encouragement; pitchers nervously pace or blow into their hands between pitches. For the most part though, to the baseball fan, the natural pace is far from boring. In fact it’s experienced as a crescendo of cumulative tension. Any parent of a Little Leaguer, or fan during a crucial major league contest, knows that a game can indeed seem like “a nervous breakdown spread over nine innings.”

The timing of the baseball season also is a celebration of the year’s seasons even if in a bittersweet way. As Bart Giamatti wrote: “It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”

Kimbrell, Andrew. 2012. “In Praise of Baseball.” Tikkun August 30, 2012. https://www.tikkun.org/in-praise-of-baseball

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Ingfei Chen reports the impression of neuroscientist György Buzsáki that what the neurons in our brain measure is not a tempo that is constructed by clocks. Rather, such neurons measure change or acceleration that occurs to us outside cultural constructions of that change.

To most of us, it seems self-evident that our brains must have something like a “sense” of time—a system for tracking the passage of time, analogous to the visual system, which detects changes in the visible world. Yet our heads contain no temporal “sensors”—and “neurons in the brain have no access to human-constructed instruments, so they have no clue about time,” Buzsáki noted when we spoke last month. Whatever our neurons are measuring, it’s not the tick of an actual clock. Moreover, he argued, both time and clocks are cultural constructions—inventions that modern societies have inherited from their predecessors. Some indigenous tribes experience “time” very differently. The Amondawa people of the Amazon, Buzsáki said, think in terms of “change”—when tribe members cross life thresholds, such as menstruation or marriage, they are given different names—but have no words for months or years and don’t know how old they are.

Speaking with Buzsáki, I found myself wondering what my brain was actually sensing when I seem to feel time flowing, second by second, minute by minute. “It has to be measuring something else, such as change or speed or acceleration, for which we do have sensors,” Buzsáki told me. If that’s the case, then “time” isn’t an absolute thing that our brains can “track” or “measure”; it’s more like an organizational system for making sense of change in the world around us and coördinating our lives.

“Of course time is change,” Edvard Moser agreed. Another way to describe his lab’s analyses of the L.E.C. would be to say that it uncovered changing sequences of activity during episodes of experience. “We call it ‘episodic time’ to emphasize that this is not ‘clock time,’ ” he said. “I still do think we have to call it something. It doesn’t really help us a lot to call it ‘rates of change’ ” (Chen 2019).

Chen, Ingfei. 2018. ‘The Neurons that Tell Time.’ The New Yorker. December 3, 2018. https://www.newyorker.com/science/elements/the-neurons-that-tell-time.

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Gareth Dale notes that narrative time is linked to clock time, with its focus on the control of time in everyday life. This is reported to also be apparent in technological progress, particularly in capitalism’s domination and erasure of nature.

In its own temporality, The Magic Mountain is classically ‘modern.’ Through a protagonist-centred narrative continuum, the present is looped through the past and toward the future. Narrative time is synced to clock time, and a focus on the detailed interactions of everyday life facilitates a tight control of tempo. As a Bildungsroman, it foregrounds processes of development and (self-)discovery.

It represents a late flourish of classical literary realism. The novel’s genre was keyed to a particular social order: bourgeois, individualistic and meliorist; its advent, some 150 years earlier, signalled a profound shift in sensibility. For the first time in literary consciousness, as Mikhail Bakhtin observed, “time and the world” became historical, unfolding “as an uninterrupted movement into a real future, as a unified, all-embracing and unconcluded process.”

The conceptual twin of this ‘modern’ literary sensibility is Progress. It too courses through Mann’s novel. Its champion is the Italian lawyer Lodovico Settembrini, who sees himself as a warrior for freedom, knowledge, transformative action, and ‘Europe,’ in opposition to tyranny, bondage, passivity, and inertia—in short, ‘Asia.’

In Settembrini’s view, time and history are propelled by machines. “As technology brought nature increasingly under its control,” improving communication “and triumphing over climatic conditions,” it also brought the peoples of the world together, driving a global shift from “darkness and fear” to happiness and virtue. Technological progress paves the road to a shining moral order. Through dominating nature, it secures liberation.

In Davos this week, Settembrini’s ghost feels right at home. It laps up the WEF mission statement, “Committed to Improving the State of the World,” and the ubiquitous undertakings to “shape the future of economic progress.”

The Magic Mountain is set prior to 1914, but Mann wrote it between 1912 and 1924, as liberal order crumpled and burned. Its narrative acceleration conjures a society hurtling toward doom. One hundred years on, ecological collapse is provoking a crisis in our perception of the ontological coordinates of human life, including nature and time. I’ll return to these. But first, how did we get here? And what is ‘capitalist time’?

Ringing the changes

The revolution in temporality of the last millennium is conventionally associated with the diffusion of the mechanical clock. By producing minutes and hours in fixed ticks, it enabled the reproducibility and universal standardisation of time. In severing time from the natural and supernatural realms, it helped foster a vision of an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences, the sphere of Newtonian science. Time could now be imagined as a uniform continuum: linear, divisible, and abstract.

But the transformation cannot have been the work of mechanical clocks alone. Clock time is a productive force, enabling the synchronisation of human purposes—but these are under whose command?

In medieval Europe and the Islamic civilisations, clocks were used less to measure time than by clerics to mark it — the call to prayer. (‘Clock’ derives from clocca/klocke: a bell.) But when clock-bells entered the public sphere to coordinate trade and public intercourse, and above all when they entered workplaces to quantify the working day, that changed.

If pre-capitalist systems were visibly kleptocratic — based on the extortion of labour’s product  — in capitalism the goal is labour productivity. Capital is the command of labour time, with the worker appearing as a commodity: personified labour-time. Capitalist rationality is governed by the law of value, the imperative to reduce the labour time of production below the ‘socially necessary’ average required to sell commodities at or below their value—where value is an abstraction of social time.

Put simply, capital’s aim is to increase profit by saving time. This accounts for the core dynamics of ‘modernity’: the systematic disciplining of labour and its segregation from the rest of the human experience, enabling labour time to be demarcated and measured; the endless acceleration of labour processes and of technical and social change; the centrality, and fetishism, of technology (in view of its key role in displacing labour and reducing circulation time); and the systematic derogation of the natural environment. Capitalism eats time, and in the process erases nature (Dale 2019).

Dale, Gareth. 2019. ‘Time Bombs at Davos.’ Brunel University London: News and Events: News. 22 January, 2019. https://www.brunel.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/articles/Time-bombs-at-Davos.

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William Meissner notes that when the diurnal rhythm of the nervous system is examined, experiments can be used which deprive us of external prompts regarding time. Such prompts are categorised into time-sources which are artificial (such as clocks), versus those which are natural (such as sunlight).

It should be noted that all biological systems evidence biological rhythms, most of which are patterned on a diurnal basis (Moore-Ede et al. 1982). The human organism is no exception to this principle (Wever 1979). Even in man there exist a variety of diurnal rhythms. The more obvious rhythmic systems include the cardiovascular system, the cardiorespiratory system, renal system, gastrointestinal system, endocrine systems, changes in blood constituents, patterns of activity in the autonomic nervous system, and variations in mood and performance. Also rhythmic patterns in the neuromotor system are significant for regulation of walking, running, etc. Rhythmic activity has also been identified in the nervous system as a whole. As Gooddy (1969) commented, “If we accept the notion of the nervous system as a clock form, we note immediately the complex nature of its structure. The final clock, by which perhaps we say ‘we know what time it is,’ or ‘we know about time and its passing,’ is the last abstraction from the innumerable subsidiary clock forms. Even at a level of single brain cells, rhythms have been demonstrated by Phillips (1956). And the common clinical tool of the electroencephalogram (EEG) provides us with objective evidence of summated and abstracted rhythmic nervous activity” (248-49). The inherent diurnal rhythmicity of the nervous system was established in a series of experiments depriving subjects of all environmental time cues-without the aid of any artificial time aids (e.g., wristwatches) or natural time-related phenomena (e.g., light-dark sequences), diurnal rhythms were found to persist throughout lengthy periods lasting as long as several months (Gifford 1981; van Cauter and Turek 1986).

Investigators found that these free-running rhythms did not coincide exactly with a twenty-four-hour cycle, but varied among individuals, approximating a circadian pattern but tending in humans to extend the cycle slightly beyond the twenty-four-hour measure. When exposed to environmental cues, however, these rhythms tend to resynchronize, more or less, with the normal twenty-four-hour cycle. This pattern of temporal organization undoubtedly has adaptive evolutionary advantages and serves the interests of internal organization and synchronization of functions, both physiologically and psychologically. We can conclude that such synchronizations are an aspect of normal and healthy functioning, and that pathological dysfunctions can reflect disruption in these systems. Experiments in sleep deprivation and common phenomena such as jet lag seem to reflect this understanding. The incidence of health complaints is higher among night-shift workers than day workers, presumably because of the desynchronization between normal restactivity cycles and environmental time cues (Moore-Ede et al. 1982) (Meissner 2007, 225-26).

Meissner, William. 2007. Time, Self, and Psychoanalysis. Lanham: Jason Aronson.

Margaret Newman argues that nursing shift work exemplifies the artificial compartmentalisation of natural time. Furthermore this artificialisation is said to compromise the natural rhythms of interpersonal nurse-patient relations.

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The paradigm shift from personal perception of time to interpersonal patterns of time now extends to global patterns of time. Arguelles (2002), a scholar of the Mayan calendar, asserted that “time governs the whole order of the universe in a manner that transcends all spatial limitations” (p. 13). The true nature of time is as the universal frequency of synchronization. By not understanding this nature, humans have created their own concept of time. Arguelles hypothesized that this artificial time constructed by humans will deviate from natural time to the point of self-destruction. Take for instance the shift work that characterizes many nursing situations. This artificial compartmentalization of time serves to maintain the operation of the hospital bureaucracy, but not the natural rhythm of nurse-patient relationships. It is difficult to honor the natural interpersonal rhythm when the nurse’s presence must conform to a prearranged schedule. The rotation of staff from shift to shift is based on the erroneous assumption that nurses are interchangeable. In such situations nurses answer not so much to the patients as to the artificial time structure. Arguelles (2002) pointed out that whoever owns your time owns your mind. There is a need to get back to the natural cycles of the universe. The time of civilization (clock time and the Gregorian calendar) is not the same as the time of the rest of the biosphere, our living planet earth. Natural time is radial in nature, projecting from the center, and continuously moving in the direction of greater consciousness as it moves back and forth from the galactic core in an instantaneous flow of information. Viewing time as linear sees only half the process. Arguelles (2002) said, “time is such a vast and important topic in the orientation of human consciousness within a biosphere that we may declare it is paramount in human affairs” (p. 35). Time is inseparable from the issue of consciousness. It is the medium of instantaneous information transmission through the universe. Both time and consciousness are factors of the implicate order and can influence changes in the explicate domain regardless of whether or not one is aware of it. The Internet, for instance, is a third dimension reflection of the noosphere, a field of consciousness to which humans are evolving. Arguelles (2002) called for a new paradigm “that is all about time” (p. 3), a shift from artificial time to universal time.

Newman, Margaret. 2008. “It’s About Time.” Nursing Science Quarterly 21(3): 225-27.