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.”


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.


Anthony Aveni observes different ways in which human constructions of time artificially regulate celestial patterns and biological rhythms. This is described as a human intervention to nature’s heartbeat, and a manipulation of something that exists beyond human culture.

Time systems became more complex and ornate as an economy and its attending bureaucracy grew and diversified. In China and Europe, mechanical clocks replaced sundials. We slowly began to manipulate nature’s direct input into the timekeeping process for our own benefit. Intercalation was one of the first steps toward human intervention, an insertion of society’s time into celestial time. Thus, we make the year complete by improving upon nature where we believe it has failed.

In a sense, the Maya did to the Venus cycle what medieval Christendom did to the sun cycle. The Venus table in the Dresden Codex tampers with time and reduces it to a cultural creation based on minor variations in nature’s harmonic heartbeat which can be detected only by careful listening and close observation. In bureaucratic societies, human actors take over both nature’s script writing and directingThe modern mass production of timepieces – with their artificial hours, minutes, and seconds – symbolizes the extent of our singleminded struggle to exercise control over that ghostly mechanical entity we imagine to be jogging alongside us, as close as a shadow but uninfluenced by the way we behave. When you say you are strapped for time, perhaps you are only expressing your frustration at the way you have become enslaved to that oscillating chip you carry about on your wrist.

Human culture emerges as the great processor of time. Like the rest of the biological world, our ancestors began by sensing the orderly biorhythms of natural time-the beat of the tides, the coming of the rains, the on-and-off stroboscopic flickering of the full moon’s light, the comings and goings of swallows, locusts, and the red tide. Unlike the New Haven oysters that relocated in Evanston, somewhere back in the distant past we became impatient and dissatisfied. We grabbed hold of the controls; we changed the order. We manipulated time, developed and enhanced it, processed, compressed, and packaged it into a crazyquilt patchwork to conform to our perceived needs: greater efficiency in dividing up the day means more earning power for both the corporate head and his workers; greater precision in Olympic timing makes for a better Reebok sneaker; and strategic positioning of daylight-saving time gives us more rest and recreation, and that leads to a longer personal time line (Aveni 1989, 336-37).

Aveni, Anthony. 1989. Empires of time: Calendars, clocks, and cultures. New York: Basic Books.


Douwe Tiemersma reviews how African literature describes time in Africa as being more closely associated with organic events than time is in Western societies. Tiemersma expands on this definition by noting how African time is perceived to be more natural, present-centric, and less abstract, than the mechanics of Western time.

Mbiti’s description of human life also shows organic time. Birth is a slow process which is finalized long after the person has been physically born…Growth of time is the growth of the child, of growing old with special indicators for the various periods. There is an ordered sequence and duration of periods, and that is time intrinsic to the events of human life. Personal events are also connected to environmental events as the flooding of a river and the enthronement of a king…

Time in Africa seems not so abstract and mechanized as it is in Western societies. It is closer to natural phenomena and everyday life, which are more organic. Time seems to be connected with the important idea of life-force (Tiemersma 1998, 269).

Tiemersma, Douwe. 1998. ‘A model of organic time and development in Africa.’ In Temps et developpement dans la pensee de I’Afrique subsharienne/Time and development in the thought of subsaharan Africa, 267-86. Edited by Souleymane Bachir Diagne et Heinz Kimmerle. Amsterdam: Rodopi.


Katrin de Guia reviews the conception that time in the Philippines is regulated not by clocks and mechanical measures, but rather by more natural patterns. These patterns are said to include the sun, seasons of harvesting, and lunar cycles. As a result, Philippine Time is described as more natural than other cultural times.

Philippine Time, some say, is experiential time (Mercado, 1977; de Leon, 2008). It is “cosmic time”, not “clock-time”. Rather, it is “organic time” – cyclical, oscillating, approximating, alive! It is a “felt time” filled with memories and contemplations – not the repetitive staccato of machine time, or the sterile on/off bytes of computer time.

A researcher once asked Filipino farmers about their concept of time (Nicado Henson in Pe-Pua 82). She reported that none of those rural folks measured time by such things as a watch, even though some of them owned one. Instead, these natives measured time by the sun; by lunar and by planting cycles; by harvesting seasons; or by the time span it takes to smoke a cigarette. To the despair of some foreign investors and urban administrators, “Filipino Time” has endured in the Philippines. Where no cash exists, or where money is not valued enough, the dictum “Time is Money” does not hold (de Guia 2013, 187).

Guia, Katrin de. 2013. ‘Indigenous values for sustainable nation building.’ Prajna Vihara 14(1-2): 175-92.


Gail Weiss argues that subjective time, and the time of clocks and calendars and planetary movements, are not mutually exclusive. In describing how clock time is embedded within corporeal movements, and vice-versa, Weiss likewise suggests that planetary movements are integral to clocked representations of time.

One danger of emphasizing the gulf between temporality and time as I have done thus far, is that it makes us liable to forget the ways in which our own lived experience continually traverses the divided between them. For surely it is overly simplistic to say that time, as measured by calendars, watches, sundials, and the movement of planets and stars, is “out there” while our temporal experience is within us; rather, we “inhabit” time and are inhabited by it, through our own bodily rhythms and movements, and through the interconnections between our own durée and the durée of all that we encounter. Indeed, to the extent that the conventions of clock time are themselves based on the movement of the earth around the sun, clock time is not merely an external, analytical device that helps us negotiate our everyday affairs, but is based on corporeal movement, movement that is inscribed in our own bodies (Weiss 1999, 112).

Weiss, Gail. 1999. Body images: Embodiment as intercorporeality. London and New York: Routledge.


Espen Hammer argues that human practices and actions shift time from being a natural phenomenon, to that which bears the intelligibility of social composition. This effect is said to be more apparent in contemporary eras than it was in pre-modern cultures, which Hammer attributes to the dominance of clock-time.

I started out by trying to establish that, for human agents, temporality necessarily has a social (and therefore also historical) dimension. In human practices and actions, natural time is humanized, thereby becoming a form of intelligibility that weaves together past, present, and future, and narratives bring structure and representational unity not only to actions but to events as well. Time is anthropologically temporalized in many ways: there are the daily biological rhythms; there is the cycle of life through adolescence and maturity to old age and death; and there is the transindividual time of periods and historical epochs. In all three contexts the modal shape of our lives and the meaning we are able to experience will inevitably have a temporal dimension.

I then drew on this account in order to make at least conceivable the idea of a specifically modern form of temporality. I argued that modernity generates conceptions of human time as increasingly quantifiable, a linear series of “nows,” where the future, with its goals to be actualized, attains priority over the past and its accumulated space of experience. The notion of lived time experienced (in line with the ideologies of progress) as a continuous rupture with the past was then analyzed in terms of notions such as modernization and purposive-rational action, requiring temporal organization to be calculative and forward-looking. The dominant temporal configuration in modernity is clock-time, the empty ticking away of transitory units of time that irreversibly and irretrievably distance us from the past. Modern time thus generates the dual problem of meaning and transience that I argue occupy the thinkers I deal with later in the book. For one thing, as the present is increasingly disconnected from structures of collective historical understanding and geared towards a linear progression towards an unknown future, it becomes incapable of securing a sense of stable meaning. Indeed, as the narratives that both individually and collectively relate actions and evaluations to a fabric of collective meaning unravel in the face of progress, the modern self tends to experience a sense of fragmentation, melancholy, and boredom. For another, as modern time is a time of perpetual transition, of the ever-new of the mere passing of homogeneous moments, the sense of transitoriness, I submitted, is stronger and existentially more devastating than that which, in pre-modern societies, gave rise to various types of metaphysics of counter-worldly immutability. In the accelerating world of modernity, there is never enough time (Hammer 2011, 237-38).

Hammer, Espen. 2011. Philosophy and temporality from Kant to critical theory. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Norbert Elias interrogates the conceptual separation of natural time and social time by noting that, contrary to the impression of an autonomous natural rhythm waiting to be discovered, a sense of natural time is shaped via devices that were originally developed for the measurement of human, social time. Natural, physical time, duly manifests, and diverges, from human time concepts.

[N]ever before had human-made time-pieces been used in this manner as a measuring rod for physical processes. The clepsydra, an elaborate version of which he used in his experiments, was traditionally a timepiece employed for timing human affairs. It was a social time-meter. Timing had been human centered. Galileo’s innovatory imagination led him to change the function of the ancient timing device by using it systematically as a gauge not for the flux of social but of natural events. In that way a new concept of ‘time’, that of physical time, began to branch off from the older, relatively more unitary human-centred concept. It was the corollary of a corresponding change in people’s concept of nature. Increasingly, ‘nature’ assumed in people’s eyes the character of an autonomous, mechanical nexus of events which was purposeless, but well ordered: it obeyed ‘laws’…

The significance of this emergence of the concept of ‘physical’ time from the matrix of ‘social time’ can hardly be overrated. It went hand in hand with the emergence of a new function for human-made timepieces; it implied the timing of ‘nature’ for its own sake. Hence it was one of the earliest steps in a process of concept-formation whose results today have become fossilized and are very much taken for granted – steps on the road towards the conceptual split of the universe which has come to dominate increasingly people’s modes of speaking and thinking and which appears as a consensual axiom that no one can doubt. As an autonomous nexus represented by eternal laws, ‘nature’ appears to stand on one side, people and their social world – artificial, arbitrary and structure-less – on the other. Endowed with regularities of its own, ‘nature’ as an object of people’s studies seems to be, in some way not clearly explained, divorced from the world of humans. One has not yet come to recognize that the illusion arises from the very fact that humans have learned to distance themselves, in their reflection and observation, from ‘nature’ in order to explore it – to distance themselves more from ‘nature’ than from themselves. In their imagination, the greater distancing and self-discipline required for the exploration of the inanimate nexus of events transformed itself into the notion of a really existing distance between themselves, the subjects, and ‘nature’, the nexus of objects…

In connection with this wider conceptual divide ‘time’, too, came to be divided into two different types: physical and social ‘time’. In the former sense, ‘time’  appeared as an aspect of ‘physical nature’, as one of the unchanging variables which physicists measure and which, as such, plays its part in the mathematical equations intended as symbolic representations of nature’s ‘laws’. In the latter sense, ‘time’ had the character of a social institution, a regulator of social events, a mode of human experience – and clocks had that of an integral part of a social order which could not work without them (Elias 1992, 114-16).

Elias, Norbert. 1992. Time: An Essay. Translated by Edmund Jephcott. Oxford and Cambridge: Blackwell.


For Clifford Geertz, two different calendars are employed by the Balinese population. These are a lunar-solar calendar, and a permutational calendar which is linked to Balinese cultural processes. Whilst the permutational calendar is said to have its origin in lunar-natural astronomical rhythms, its usage is divorced from such a source.

The two calendars which the Balinese employ are a lunar-solar one and one built around the interaction of independent cycles of day-names, which I shall call “permutational.” The permutational calendar is by far the most important. It consists of ten different cycles of day-names. These cycles are of varying lengths. The longest contains ten day-names. following one another in a fixed order, after which the first day-name reappears and the cycle starts over. Similarly, there are nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and even-the ultimate of a “contemporized” view of time – one day-name cycles. The names in each cycle are also different, and the cycles run concurrently. That is to say, any given day has, at least in theory, ten different names simultaneously applied to it,. one from each of the ten cycles. Of the ten cycles, only those containing five, six, and seven day-names are of major cultural significance, however, although the three-name cycle is used to define the market week and plays a role in fixing certain minor rituals, such as the personal-naming ceremony referred to earlier…

The lunar-solar calendar, though constructed on a different basis, actually embodies the same punctual conception of time as the permutational. Its main distinction and, for certain purposes. advantage is that it is more or less anchored; it does not drift with respect to the seasons.

This calendar consists of twelve numbered months which run from new moon to new moon. These months are then divided into two sorts of (also numbered) days: lunar (tithi) and solar (diwasa). There are always thirty lunar days in a month. but, given the discrepancy between the lunar and solar years, there are sometimes thirty solar days in a month and sometimes twenty-nine. In the latter case, two lunar days are considered to fall on one solar day-that is, one lunar day is skipped. This occurs every sixty-three days; but, although this calculation is astronomically quite accurate, the actual determination is not made on the basis of astronomical observation and theory, for which the Balinese do not have the necessary cultural equipment (to say nothing of the interest); it is determined by the use of the permutational calendar. The calculation was of course originally arrived at astronomically; but it was arrived at by the Hindus from whom the Balinese, in the most distant past, imported the calendar. For the Balinese, the double lunar day – the day on which it is two days at once – is just one more special kind of day thrown up by the workings of the cycles and supercycles of the permutational calendar – a priori, not a posteriori, knowledge.

In any case, this correction still leaves a nine-eleven-day deviation from the true solar year, and this is compensated for by the interpolation of a leap-month every thirty months. an operation which though again originally a result of Hindu astronomical observation and calculation is here simply mechanical. Despite the fact that the lunar-solar calendar looks astronomical, and thus sums to be based on some perceptions of natural temporal processes, celestial clocks, this is an illusion arising from attending to its origins rather than its uses. Its uses are as divorced from observation of the heavens – or from any other experience of passing time – as are those of the permutational calendar by which it is so rigorously paced. As with the permutational calendar, it is the system, automatic, particulate, fundamentally not metrical but classificatory, which tells you what day (or what kind of day) it is, not the appearance of the moon, which, as one looks casually up at it, is experienced not as a determinant of the calendar but as a reflex of it. What is “really real” is the name – or, in this case, the (two-place) number – of the day, its place in the transempirical taxonomy of days, not its epiphenomenal reflection in the sky (Geertz 1973, 192-96).

Geertz, Clifford. 1973. The interpretation of cultures: Selected essays by Clifford Geertz. New York: Basic Books.


Lewis Mumford posits that mechanical time and organic time are polarised, whereby the former inadequately represents the latter. Mechanical, mathematical time is comprised of separate, superposable, identical instants. Conversely, organic time states are cumulative, and qualitatively differential, in the way that organic functions change tempo.

In terms of the human organism itself, mechanical time is even more foreign: while human life has regularities of its own, the beat of the pulse, the breathing of the lungs, these change from hour to hour with mood and action, and in the longer span of days, time is measured not by the calendar but by the events that occupy it. The shepherd measures from the time the ewes lambed; the farmer measure back to the day of sowing or forward to the harvest: if growth has it own duration and regularities, behind it are not simply matter and motion and the facts of development: in short, history. And while mechanical time is strung out in a succession of mathematically isolated instants, organic time – what Bergson calls duration – is cumulative in its effects. Though mechanical time can, in a sense, be speeded up or run backward, like the hands of a clock or the images of a moving picture, organic time moves in only one direction – through the cycle of birth, growth, development, decay, and death – and the past that is already dead remains present in the future that has still to he born (Mumford 1934, 15-16).

Mumford, Lewis. 1934. Technics and civilization. New York: Harcourt.