The clock is ticking. Learn why society is so fixated on time.
Chronicling the lives of influential and often forgotten figures.
Working Over Time
The Development of Standardized Systems
Dear History Lover:
As we reach the culmination of January 2024,
we explore the origins of the modern calendar and its influence . In Ancient Egyptian and Babylonian Society, time was organized by natural seasonal cycles. In these ancient societies, tracking time was used to support food productivity. Dials and obelisks monitored the position of the sun, signaling the beginning and end of the workday. The Mayans and Romans developed intricate calendars grounded in natural cycles, reflecting their integrations of time with spiritual beliefs and social
structures. The Mayan calendar, composed of the Haab, Tzolk’in, and the Calendar Round, was intricately
intertwined with lunar, astrological, planetary, and human cycles.
The Julian calendar was a solar calendar proposed by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE, which laid the foundation for our modern Gregorian calendar. With 365 days in each year, the calendar, marked by 12 months and a leap year every four years, the Julian calendar exemplifies
an early attempt at the standardization of time.
More recent notions of keeping time evolved alongside the rise of capitalism, in support of economic development, and wealth generation. Widespread standardization came as a result of industrialization, as factories and railroads demanded efficient logistical coordination. The regimented clock replaced seasonal rhythms with “uniform
Punching clocks monitored factory work hours, creating the mentality that “time is money.” The concept that profit can be generated through increased working hours emerged. In 1883, American railroads instituted time zones for safety, which influenced a broader societal adherence. Prior to standardization, cities and towns had the ability to set their own time,
which was often displayed for the public to see on government and religious buildings. The standardization of time was crucial for coordinating complex transit and freight schedules and ensuring safe and efficient travel. Subsequently, it also served to catalyze a forced schedule on human activity.
As capitalist values elevated productivity, our relationship with time became profit-driven. Employees trade their “hard earned time” for fiscal compensation, sometimes working “overtime” or “double-time” to increase their earnings and by relegating certain hours of the day to be more valuable than others by increasing pay. The use of time is critical to enforce capitalism within economic systems known for habitually pushing efficiency and productivity. The emphasis on production has
revolutionized the organization and execution of labor, resulting in an establishment of rigid work schedules and intensification of labor in order to get things done “on time.”
By the 1960s, governments and businesses relied on technology to manage time. Early computer programs relegated two digits to represent the year. In late 1999, as most cultures approached the year 2000, and a new millennium, many feared that computers would misinterpret "00" and cause a major glitch, potentially
crashing the stock market, impacting travel, and resulting in huge financial loss and malfunction across the globe. The system which had been recently created to manage time was about to disrupt it. Software and hardware companies raced against the clock to resolve the feared “Y2K Bug.” Ultimately, their collective solution was to convert the two digit representation of years to four digits. Crisis averted.
And speaking of the fixation on how time affects the New
Year, consider our approach to New Year's resolutions. The tradition of resolutions even plays into values of self-improvement tied to output and growth. There is societal pressure to: set ambitious goals; obtain memberships to join pricey fitness clubs; invest in new clothing; contract labor for home improvement, and even start a fad diet. The tradition of correlating resolutions to spending money and increasing productivity perpetuates capitalist ideals for constant growth even at the
From ancient civilizations organizing time around agricultural seasons to industrialization giving rise to standardized time, the modern calendar has evolved to prioritize productivity and efficiency. Ultimately, the calendar that once reflected natural cycles and spiritual connection has become a dictator for work and a harness for measuring personal growth. While
establishing a sense of order and predictability, standardized time has also accelerated society's focus on profit over purpose.
As we embark on this leap year, it is vital to reflect on how we can recapture a more balanced relationship with time. Though re-calibrating ingrained notions of productivity shall prove challenging, maintaining an awareness of its origins allows us to reshape the
present role of time in our lives. It is time to prioritize well-being over wealth.
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