A History of Time & Timekeeping

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I’ve written before that the biggest difference that I’ve come to associate with early retirement is that your fundamental relationship with the concept of TIME changes. That is, instead of time being USED as a resource of productivity, it becomes SAVORED as a resource of lifestyle enjoyment.

Recently, I’ve been reading the magnificent history book Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. It might be the best book I have ever read.  In one passage he discusses the history of timekeeping and how it emerged in the 1800s Industrial Revolution. As humankind left behind an Agrarian world where 98% of people worked on a farm, timekeeping became a key requirement for our new society to operate. Factories, trains, and the bigger governments required people to work together in new ways which meant they all had to be on the same clock.

In the book, he talks about how ancient civilizations did surprisingly little to keep track of time. There might have been only handful of sundials in an entire Assyrian, Roman, or Inca city. Even in medieval times, a city’s plaza might have had a clock tower, but they were notoriously inaccurate and required constant upkeep. In fact, he states that the modern household probably has more timekeeping devices than a typical medieval country!

Our entire society is now set up to manage work processes as efficiently as possible by setting everything to a synchronized cadence of hours, minutes, and seconds.

This being the case, it’s not surprising that after taking off my wristwatch at my MegaCorp retirement party has been a huge eye opener. I haven’t worn one ever since.  I can now regularly let 5, 15, 60, or 90 minutes drift by when I am purely focused on something I am enjoying and not thinking about where someone else needs me to be.

I’m now happily disconnected from the need to be in perfect sync with everyone else in the world at almost all times.  MegaCorp time requirements is always a tangled mess of calendars and meetings.  Now, rather than have ten meetings to be on time for every day, I typically have just one or two things I have committed to on a given day – and they are usually fun things like lunch with a friend, a game, or a trip to the mall/movie/park.

There isn’t really a moral to this story for folks that still live on the MegaCorp rhythm, but it has been an eye opener for everyone I talk with that has made the jump to the work ‘afterlife’.  It is one of the things I try to explain to people who haven’t yet made the jump.  Until you’ve done it, I think it is hard to understand what it is to start relating to time in a completely new way!

Related: Daily Schedule in Early Retirement

Image Credit: Pixabay

5 thoughts on “A History of Time & Timekeeping

  1. Well said Mr. Firestation. The need for alarm clocks waking one up every day, over constant deadlines and countless meetings/ phone calls/ telepresence meetings to a simpler and a tad slower life is incomprehensible until you have lived through it. Took a 127 day trip to Asia this year, now back in Europe for the summer for a dive season, before embarking on a 6months trip to Latin America. I learnt to Kite Surf this year, trained to become a Dive Instructor, and slowly improving my rudimentary Spanish skills. All meanwhile renovating another rental apartment remotely and building a new online business. I keep busy, but with stuff I truly enjoy, stuff that makes me wake up and be active. I think staying active is very important with focus on things that make you happy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow – that’s some schedule! Keeping busy hasn’t been a challenge for us, but we haven’t taken any trips longer than 2-3 weeks before. We always say we are ready to get home after about 12-14 days. I feel like I am missing things that are happening at home!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I guess I have traveled all my adult life for work so much that I am quite the opposite. Once I don’t see an airport for a couple weeks I start getting anxious. But as I age I love to spend more time with my grand- and parents at “home” in Poland so I totally get it wanting to be home.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Just told Kim that Santa should buy me ‘Sapiens’ for Christmas! I’ll always wear a watch because I just love them for some reason, but I really appreciate the perspective of “time to savor life vs time to produce.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can honestly say I was astounded by the book. It is such a broad and interesting story of our species. Even though I enjoy history, I felt positively DUMB for how little I understood about how our civilization came to be!


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