Humans and Time

“[…] for the clock is not merely a means of keeping track of the hours, but of synchronizing the actions of men.”

We are equipped with many senses in order to interact with our environment and survive and adapt to even severe conditions. We can measure temperature with our skin, luminosity with our eyes and sound with our ears. Time however is something a human cannot detect or measure purely with his body, despite his life being ultimately dependant on it. Through the ages we have come up with various methods and mechanisms to rationalize and measure time. In his infamous book “Technics and Civilization” Lewis Mumford argues that it was the invention and utilization of the Clock that started the first technological revolution. The conceptual separation of a day into abstract bits that therefore separate another abstract entity – work, into sizable units, allowed for rationalization of days and enabled processes such as planning or measuring efficiency. This kicked off a series of decisive inventions and progress was accelerated.

Centuries later, we still measure time the very same way our ancestors did at the beginning of this chain of events and discoveries we call civilization. Now time has become a point of reference for both action and thought, with the idea that “time is money” deeply rooted in our understanding of life. Despite that the body itself has regularities of its own such as the beating of the heart, the breathing of the lungs, changing moods and actions, where time is not measured by the calendar but rather by the distance of events that occupy it, by measuring minutes and seconds, time is being disassociated from human events and rather with an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences. And although mechanical time today became the new medium of existence, where humans regulate their otherwise natural functions as sleeping and eating to the clock, our entire environment still measures time as an organic entity.

“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 only in 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 be born.”

– Lewis Mumford, “Technics and Civilization”

Our buildings might not be able to measure time as exact and mechanical as a clock does, but to us humans it is through buildings that we register the passing of organic time for they carry the visual information of that passage.

We might be too temporary to understand the mechanisms of time and its passing, but it is our environment, both as nature and man-built surroundings, that live long enough to connect us to our past and our future. Just like us, buildings are subjected to the course of time, but they can record it and display it for us in a way we can never do with our bodies. That is why our environment matters, for it depicts the history of all of us, a history still in the making.

That is why I write this blog.



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