Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Consequences of the Clock

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, p. 11:
"'The clock,' Mumford has concluded, 'is a piece of power machinery whose 'product' is seconds and minutes.' In manufacturing such a product, the clock has the effect of disassociating time from human events and thus nourishes the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences. Moment to moment, it turns out, is not God's conception, or nature's. It is man conversing with himself about and through a piece of machinery he created.

In Mumford's great book Technics and Civilization, he shows how, beginning in the fourteenth century, the clock made us into time-keepers, and them time-savers, and now time-servers. In the process, we have learned irreverence toward the sun and the seasons, for in a world made up of seconds and minutes, the authority of nature is superseded. Indeed, as Mumford points out, with the invention of the clock, Eternity ceased to serve as the measure and focus of human events. And thus, though few would have imagined the connection, the inexorable ticking of the clock may have had more to do with the weakening of God's supremacy than all the treatises produced by the philosophers of the Enlightenment"


  1. Glad to see you've got Postman's book now. I haven't read it, but I've seen it quoted a ton of interesting places. It's on my "eventual" list - looking forward to what you find.


  2. glad I have it too. It's really intriguing stuff so far. I'll definitely let you know what I think.

  3. Its interesting to contrast this with what Rodney Stark, in Victory of Reason, wrote about how muslims rejected the clock early on. Not because they foresaw any sort of social change it may have brought about but because the clerics thought the invention of something that fulfilled the purpose of the sun, moon, and stars would somehow lessen the glory of Allah.

    It certainly is interesting to see how technology changes us and shapes us. Marshal McLuhan, Postman's mentor, once said "all mediums work us over completely".

  4. that is interesting. I had not heard that before.