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time for technology

the structure of time
and its relevance for the theory and practice of technology


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waiting time
web time
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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.

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Waiting Time

veryard projects > technology change management > time for technology > waiting time

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"
  1. the instant of seeing
  2. the time for understanding
  3. the moment of concluding
Lacan illustrates this with a story of three prisoners.
more Lacan's Theory of Time

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Web Time

veryard projects > technology change management > time for technology > webtime

When people talk about doing things "in web time", they usually mean doing things at breakneck speed.  Webtime indicates a
form of hyperactivity.
more Lewis Mumford on Time and Power
Albert Borgmann on Hyperactivity

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Pope of the millennium - my vote goes to Sylvester II

veryard projects > technology change management > time for technology > pope

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 him 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 dawned.

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.

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Technology of the millennium - the clock

veryard projects > technology change management > time for technology > clock

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 tenth century.

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.

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Change of the millennium

veryard projects > technology change management > time for technology > time

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.
more Technology Progress
Topological Notions


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This page last updated on February 4th, 2002
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