Time is money. Time is short. Time is near.
Time is at once, forgotten, ceasing, ever lasting. It is everywhere; it is for all…well…time.
Some say it is a figment, it doesn’t really exist, a mere a construct of man. And yet even these overweening theorists set their watch by it.
Indeed, today, time is ubiquitous. One can access it effortlessly and in many places at once. It can be found on your wrist, your smartphone and tablet, your computer, even on your microwave or stove.
In times past however, it was not that way at all. Time was shrouded in mystery and hidden from the public to be used as a tool of the elite. As the great roman stoic philosopher Seneca observed of Roman priests, time was used almost exclusively to manipulate the masses. They would occasionally insert time here and there but only when it suited some nefarious or self-serving purpose.
Caesar, added to his long list of detractors when he decided to fix this by implementing the Julian calendar. But even Caesar’s effort did not quite fix the problem. Nearly a century later Seneca would again quip that, it was “easier for two philosophers to agree than two clocks.”
Ascertaining, indeed, subduing time, became a dire quest after the resurrection of Christ when discerning the exact date and time of Easter became all encompassing to the Christian church. Fifteen hundred years later the Gregorian calendar, instituted in 1582 and named after Pope Gregory XIII, corrected some of the discrepancies present in the Julian calendar.
Meanwhile, the evolution of a robust and intricate urban mercantile class in the 13th century required that the whole of the community be synchronized in its daily machinations.
By the dawn of the 14th century, the finest artisans and craftsmen were employed in building evermore beautiful and sophisticated clocks for churches and cathedrals.
This led to the development of the surprisingly accurate mechanized clock, which enabled manifold uses. These public timepieces empowered society in that they organized and coordinated communal activities and events (usually religious in nature) and allowed merchants to sychronize the trading of goods and services.
In colonial America and up until the very early 20th century, the sophistication of government, religion, and the use of time, converged in the form of the public square where the county courthouse with its massive clock was the first measure of a community’s success.
Paradoxically, this very success forged its own demise. American exceptionalism, with its incessant drive to innovate and scale, made it possible to put a clock everywhere, making the once indispensible courthouse clock something that time forgot.