The Clock Will Destroy

By Ian Sorley Cook

In “The Tyranny of the Clock”, George Woodcock describes the clock as having value in its ability to regulate activities to ensure that time is not wasted on unimportant tasks, but also as an insidiously creeping restraint on human interaction and life in general. But Woodcock never touches on the realities of consumption patterns when the mechanized clock is used. Before the use of the mechanized clock, a product was judged based on its quality, longevity and ability to be reused. The mechanized clock has placed an enormous value on the quantity of a product that can be produced for consumption, or to be used up. Because of this shift in values, we now live in a global economy that is dependent on the wealthy minorities’ ability to consume. Where factory owners once took advantage of the people by utilizing the mechanized clock, the first world now dictates the working habits and the lifestyles of much of the rest of the world by controlling the standards and values of the volume of ‘product’ and its consumption.

In the Ancient Times, architecture incorporated the movements of the sun, moon and stars in order to keep track of time. 2000 years ago, if you stood in the Temple of the Sun at Machu Picchu, you would instantly know what time of day it was, what season, and which year. In Ancient Cambodia, at Angkor Wat, the Khmer mapped the movements of the stars and the sun in relation to the earth in order to build walls and towers that enabled them to tell the time. The architecture incorporated the time, history and rituals into practical buildings, not only allowing the Khmers to keep track of their records, but allowing us to now piece together their history. These were polychronic civilizations that understood how to put fine craftsmanship into their works while adhering to a tedious construction schedule.

After the introduction of the mechanical clock, somehow most humans forgot this ancient knowledge of how to use the earth’s movement through the universe as a guide for time, and became subject to quantification measured against time. A tenuous shift from value in quality, to value in quantity has intensified in more recent times, and we now live in a seemingly on-demand manufacturing world. The days of the stone-carving craftsmen and artisans of the old world, who spent tireless hours chiseling out a bas-relief from sandstone, are gone. Now we are faced with a new reality of consumption.

Clearly, humanity has pursued the clock past the point of sustainability, and we must begin to look at other ways of managing time. We now know that the survival of our planet depends on our ability to value the things we create, from its conception to its reuse for a different application. There will be a great demand for smarter, quality-driven, practical design in the future. We must change the way we view time and manage our manufacturing processes in order to sustainably develop the world.


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