time for technology
the structure of time
and its relevance for the theory and practice of technology
|on this page
||Both business agenda and technology agenda are obsessed
by time. Time to market, just-in-time, cycle time, webtime. Frequency,
speed, acceleration. Time has become the most precious resource, and we
are intolerant of journey time, waiting time and idle time.
||Over the past thousand years, our notions of time have
been radically transformed. Mechanican clocks were invented around 1000
CE. Monasteries used the clock to control work and prayer. Early factories
took over the clock-based work ethic. Clocks are now everywhere.
||Obsessionals like to fill time with make-work, busy-work, work that
doesn't actually work anything. It is as if obsessional people and organizations
were always waiting for something more important. (Perhaps death.)
||Engineers like to eliminate waiting time from business processes. This
itself can become an obsession.
||Collaboration is often held up, because each participant is waiting
for someone else to do something first.
||Lacan offers an interesting analysis of hesitation. Logical
time is divided into three "moments"
Lacan illustrates this with a story of three prisoners.
the instant of seeing
the time for understanding
the moment of concluding
When people talk about doing things "in web time", they usually mean
doing things at breakneck speed. Webtime indicates a
form of hyperactivity.
One of the most brilliant mathematicians of his time,
the French monk Gerbert became pope in the year 999, taking the name Sylvester
II. He remained pope until his death in 1003.
Among other things, Gerbert is credited with the invention of the first
modern mechanical clock, as well as the introduction
of Arabic numerals into Western Europe. The Oxford
Dictionary of Popes associates him with the abacus, the terrestial
and celestial globes, and the organ. Islamic historians recognize
as one of the earliest translators
of scientific knowledge from Arabic into Latin.
Five centuries before Leonardo, six centuries before Galileo, he deserves
an honoured place in the history of ideas. I find it almost incredible
that such a man should also have been elected pope. But fitting,
perhaps, that a mathematician should occupy the Holy See as the new millennium
Thanks to his intellectual links with Islam, some contemporaries saw
him as the Anti-Christ. They saw his election as pope as a confirmation
of the imminent end of the world. Their closed world was indeed to come
to an end, partly as a result of the technologies pioneered by Gerbert,
but this would not occur for several centuries.
What is the technology that has, above all others, dominated the past thousand
years? The clock.
There is a legend that the first modern mechanical clock, worked by
falling weights, was invented by a monk called Gerbert,
who later became Pope.
Regular time-keeping and order was an essential feature of monastic
life, especially under the Benedictine Rule. Work and prayer were
controlled by the clock. This pattern of work was later transferred to
secular working practices, and became a feature of early factory organization.
It is primarily for this reason that Lewis
Mumford traced the origins of the Industrial Revolution back to the
Writing in the 1930s, Mumford identified the clock as the key machine
of the industrial age. Clocks are everywhere.
Nowadays, we might think that the chip has replaced the clock as the
ubiquitous machine. Except for the fact that the chips themselves all contain
clocks. I'm sure many people didn't realise that a lift mechanism
contained a clock, until the Millennium Bug Alert drew our attention to
the fact. There are hardware clocks, software clocks and quartz clocks.
And of course there are still millions of clockwork clocks. (I have
a sturdy old cooker, which contains no computer chips, but it features
an electrically powered clockwork timer.) Clocks are everywhere.
As a result of the dominance of clocks, our experience
of time has been radically transformed over the past thousand years. This
affects the way we perceive change, and the speed of change.
More recent technologies have started to enable a similar transformation
of our experience of space. Transport enables us to travel much greater
distances than our forebears. News media give us information about events
in distant lands (or even distant planets). More recently, Virtual Reality
and the Internet have started to introduce more strange experiences. There
is a need to develop ever-more complex modes of topological reasoning -
what is connected to what, what is accessible from where, what is protected
from whom, how can this be stretched or squeezed into that.
Watch this space.
|in asssociation with
This page last updated on February 4th, 2002
Copyright © 2001-2002 Veryard Projects Ltd