Joshua Keating reports that not all territories have always been interested in adopting a standardised social time. The U.S. national time is provided as an example of this, in which the railroad network demanded a country-wide common clock, despite cities such as Cincinnati wanting to remain with a more natural time.

We measure time not simply in terms of minutes and seconds, but in terms of concepts such as “early,” “late” – or, for that matter, “fashionably late.” What is the length of a “work day”? In the United States, Europe and Japan you’ll get three different answers.

Those subjective views help explain why the standardization of time has often been met with reluctance, if not outright resistance. Historically, countries have not eagerly embraced the global clock—they’ve felt compelled to do so because of the demands of commerce.

The U.S. national time standard, for instance, didn’t emerge until 1883, when it was adopted by the railroads, which needed to maintain common timetables. Before that, cities largely kept their own local time, and many were not happy to have big government and big railroads force standardization on them. “Let the people of Cincinnati stick to the truth as it is written by the sun, moon and stars,” editorialized one newspaper when the changeover was going into effect (Keating 2013).

Keating, Joshua. 2013. “Why time is a social construct.” January 2013. 4139110/


Keiichiro Fujisaki portrays a clock, which graphically represents the regions of the world which are concurrently either in sunlight or shadow, as a recognition of the difference between natural time and artificial time. Whilst natural time is indicated by the sun, artificial time is said to be illustrated by the time zones.

In the morning, the birds all begin to sing in unison.

The passage of time is different from country to country and region to region. Different cities may be in the same time zone, but as the clock strikes seven in the morning, some may already be experiencing bright daylight, while in others the sun may not even have risen. Earth Clock affords a sweeping view of these various times around the globe. Yoshiaki Nishimura of Living World explains:

“Despite the fact that it’s as broad as the U.S. (excluding Hawaii and Alaska) when measured from east to west, China employs the same standard time throughout the country. The time difference between India and Japan is 3 hours 30 minutes, but the time difference between here and Nepal is 3 hours 15 minutes. Time differences of 15 or 30 minutes are used by certain countries to distinguish themselves from their neighbors, so in a sense they can be referred to as time borders. So among other things, time is a political tool.”

Indeed. I remember hearing stories about how at the western extremity of China the Sun would be directly overhead at three in the afternoon. The terminator marches on regardless of things like manmade national borders and standard time zones. Says Nishimura, “I had in mind the question, What would time be like without the influence of time in industrialized societies?” So Earth Clock was born out of a recognition of the contrast between artificial time and natural time.

“In the morning, the birds all begin to sing in unison as the terminator passes. On the opposite side of the globe, the sunset side, dogs start barking and crows return to their nests. Although in the cities, which increasingly operate around the clock, we live according to artificially designated time with little regard for whether it is day or night, the world at large is overwhelmingly governed by natural time. The terminator turns relentlessly like a music box. Frogs start to croak and birds start to sing. I find this kind of thing fascinating, and I’d always wanted to express this somehow in my work” (Fujisaki 2007).

Fujisaki, Keiichiro. 2007. “Natural time, artificial time: Earth Clock Report Part 1: Living World.” Living world. 14 January 2007.