All the Time in the World

Here’s an essay on the modern manipulation of time and its affects on regular people. It’s a bit grandiose sounding, but it was written for a literary magazine, so cut me some slack.

Yesterday I committed a great modern day sin; I forgot my watch. Not just any watch, this was my Casio “waveceptor”, a digital and analog wristwatch complete with a daily radio update from the atomic clock in Colorado. It’s not an especially expensive watch but it is imperative that I remember to carry it with me at all times. Why? Because without the ability to reliably tell time, I can’t function in this society and neither can you. Modern industrial society dictates that we all must be wary of the time at all times. We as a civilization have become time obsessed. We’ve subdivided our days and nights into progressively smaller chunks of regulated and restricted time. Without a direct connection to this time matrix we’re left adrift in a complex dance we don’t know or understand the moves to.

The measurement and regulation of time is the driving force in any modern industrial society. So much so that modern societies break down most all-natural elements of time and in their dust create new and far more intricate groupings of minutes, seconds and nanoseconds. In earlier epochs life was measured and largely regulated by the seasons, day and night, the shape of the moon etc. You sew the fields in spring, ate salted fish during the winter and harvested the crops in the fall. When it was day you were awake and when it was night you would go to sleep. All very simple things.

Yet with the continuous evolution of civilization, time became more and more artificial. Soon religious holidays and days of religious observance were introduced by the priest or shaman caste. You had to worship in this way on this date at this time. That is if you didn’t want the gods to smite you. Then the state got involved and started dictating that citizens perform this duty (normally forced labor of some sort) for a certain period of time and that x group of people must attend schooling for y number of years. Finally with the introduction of commerce, the rule of the market dictated that people show up to work at this time, eat lunch at another time and leave for home at a later time.

All of these changes are quite minor in comparison to the current state of things. Our status quo is the complete management of time and the definitive meaning of that time. That is to say that in our modern society all time is an artificial vacuum, in which each second is measured and counted so that every waking moment of our lives is spent in some of predetermined activity at some predetermined hour. It’s a not a hard thing to observe if you look out for it. First examine how our means of production have smashed all natural signs of time. What ever happened to the night? In all other ages of human development, day and night held near hegemonic sway. Now the night is a mere annoyance, a nuisance to be fought off with headlights and batteries. We could live in a underground bunker and feel little different if that was what was required of us. It might be a bit psychologically offsetting, but we could deal. For those of us in “modern society”, the concept of seasons is on the way out too. Remember how people used to get cold during the winter? Even in their homes? And how during the summer people actually wore pants and heavy woolen clothing? Nowadays you pop the thermostat up or down and all is right with the realm. Oh sure you wear coat or a T-shirt when you’re out “braving the elements”, but so long as you stay within the artificial confines of the human “habitat” and keep on playing halo, you wouldn’t know the difference.

Without the normal barriers and guideposts the natural world provides us, society has unceasingly drove towards a time that is ever more complex and ever more controlled. Think about any portion of your typical day. You wake up at a prearranged time regardless of the weather or the absence of sunlight. You do so, not because you want to wake up, but because it has been declared that you must wake up this time each day in order to arrived at school at your correct prearranged “start time”. If this time clashes with your “life” you’re most probably scolded and eventually punished by those who set the “start time”. Meanwhile in school you spend your hours situated in a series of uniform blocks of time in specified and predetermined subjects. English 8th period, government 9th period math 10th period etc.etc.etc. Once more, if you do not follow this appropriate time frame, you are singled out and targeted by those in authority.

After school you go to work, and begin your “shift”. You may or may not spend specified periods of time within this “shift’ doing various assigned tasks. You might even get some “break time” which is exactly 15 minutes long, no more, no less. After ours of drudgery you finally reach quitting time at which it is acceptable to “clock out”. Of course if you violate any of these time regulations you face stiff sanctions. Nobody wants anyone to come in late or take off early.

Most telling is the concept of “free time”. Free time is possibly the most deceptive of lures that our controlling forces have thrown in our face. “Don’t worry!” we’re told. ”You’ll have plenty of free time once work is over,” This is unadulterated bull. In a modern industrial society there is no free time. All chunks of time already have predetermined lengths and predetermined social meanings. Free time is that time you think is ‘free’, but actually is more akin to indirect control by same societal forces that already directly control all other aspects of your life. Examine any portion of your “free” time and notice how much of that free time was spent either consuming commercial products, or consuming commercial entertainment. Most people would say that the vast majority of their free time is spent in this manner.

And yet where is the freedom in that? Buying consumer products feeds the engine of commerce, the same engine that already controls your workday and work schedule. How is this time ‘free’ if we spend it feeding the forces of oppression? Watching entertainment is not much better. Where’s the freedom and originally in using all your time and scheduling your whole night, around the public relations spewing of commercial entities? Are you really free when you spend every Monday at 10 PM watching “Medium”? What’s so bad about all of this is that of all these favored pastime activities, few can be enjoyed for free? Last I noticed Loews Cinema costs 20 dollars for a ticket with some popcorn and soda, how much does it cost to feel a truly enriching experience? 2,000? 20,000? Unless you’re someone that sets the meaning of time (Corporate executives, the pope, the president, etc.) you don’t have much of a chance to earn that kind of money.

Now please don’t take this as a wholesale assault on the idea of time. Time is the 5th dimension of space. It’s a universal concept; you can’t just throw it away. However the complete hegemony of artificial time and artificially defined time is something that we as a society must address. Time is all that we have and to mismanage it for the benefit of a religious/state/corporate elite is the greatest crime against the human spirit. A truly free and prosperous society must acknowledge the need for extensive free time. Not a free time that merely mimics freedom but in reality bolsters the forces of control. But a freedom of the most exalted sort, where you can feel enthused and enriched every minute and every second. You may call it utopian, but what have you got to loose? More “free” time?

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