How the Invention of Time Alienated Humans

On the afternoon of February 15, 1894, a terrorist attack occurred near Greenwich Park in London, England. A 26-year-old French man walked across the park to the gate of the Greenwich Observatory and detonated a large box of dynamite in his brown handbag. The scene was terrible for a while, and the terrorist died on the spot.

No one knows what his exact motives were, but some commentators speculate that Time was the target of the terrorist attack. To be precise, it was the Greenwich Observatory that established Universal Time in 1884. This speculation is not without reason. In the era when the precise time system was just invented, terrorist attacks against time, or clocks, broke out in many countries that entered modern society. The reason is simple, people are angry about precise timing.

As a 21st-century reader, you may find this outrage strange, or even incomprehensible, but it actually says something: Time has alienated you and me. In the thousands of years before the invention of the modern time system, most social activities of human beings did not strictly follow time, but were closely related to the operation of nature. Taking farming as an example, the twenty-four solar terms do not strictly guide farmers when to do what. In the vast ancient China, because of regional differences and year-to-year climate differences, farmers must observe real natural signs Rather than following a fixed calendar. Learning to see the sky is more useful for farming than memorizing the calendar by rote.

In ancient times, autumn did not necessarily start from August (Liqiu), it was defined by the first yellow leaves; the definition of noon was the moment when “the sun is above the head and there is no shadow”. However, with the invention of precise timing tools in the 14th century and the improvement of astronomical measurement levels, most social production and communication activities broke away from natural rhythms and began to follow the rhythms defined by humans.

The invention of “time” helps human beings transform and utilize nature and benefit society. We cannot imagine how to achieve modernization in a world without a precise time system, because the bottom layer of almost all production activities is an assembly line that is precisely timed. But after the tool of time was invented, it was human beings who were alienated first.

We can’t use time to accurately calculate the flow of four seasons, but after inventing time, we manage people’s behavior accurately.

The promotion of standardized time is an interesting process.

For a long time after the invention of the clock, the time was not uniform, and all regions adopted their own time to achieve a state more in line with nature. For example, even in the same time zone, the sunset time at different locations on the same longitude is different – a small town in the shade of a mountain may not be far enough away from a town on the other side of the mountain to cause a significant time difference , but if there is no mandatory division, the residents of the two places may observe completely different times, because for the small town of Shan’in, the sun only appears at noon every day.

The major railway companies were the first to use standardized time in Europe. In order to ensure the efficient operation of train timetables, railway companies require towns along the railway to adopt international standardized time. Later, standardized time spread with railways throughout Europe, and the ensuing outrage led to the aforementioned terrorist attacks.

The process of promoting standardized time is the process of alienating life.

At first, we worked at sunrise and rested at sunset; then, we had precise timing tools, and in order to coordinate the operation of the whole society, we began to stipulate that we start working at 8 o’clock in the morning every day, regardless of whether the weather was suitable for working at that time; after that, We have a standardized timetable, and we have begun to stipulate that people must arrive at designated places according to the timetable, such as catching a train.

Parents must be familiar with the following scene, that is, when your child is playing games or watching TV, if you agree with him to “play/watch another 5 minutes”, it is often an invalid agreement. In most cases, this agreement is not well fulfilled. Because in fact, we have “one game” when playing games, and “one episode” when watching cartoons. Time cannot plan all our lives.

For another example, eating lunch before or after lunch time is a shameful workplace behavior. Even if the leader does not criticize, employees who do so will still feel a kind of pressure. We set the lunch period to start at 12 noon because most people will be hungry at this time. But in actual modern life, we use 12 o’clock to judge whether it is time to start eating, with little regard for whether people will be hungry early or late.

Since the invention of precise timing tools, human beings have become objects dominated by time—we work according to the time, catch up with vehicles against the timetable, and precisely limit entertainment life for self-discipline—so precise time and imprecise The contradiction between the flesh (we are not cogs) manifests itself everywhere in modern life.