“time is money, friend”

Posted: January 22, 2012 in Communications and Technology
Tags: , ,

In “Technics and Civilization,” Lewis Mumford states a case for the mechanical clock being the birth of technology – of standardization, punctuality, and even modern capitalism.

To own a watch was a decadence only the bourgeois could afford, and it was seen as a symbol of success.

Say what? Of success – really? We have become literal slaves to time. Even Mumford could see in the 1930s that the ideas of adding time and saving time, though abstract and socially constructed, are treated as if they are absolutely real. That is not to say the consequences of “time” or “saving time” are not real, in fact that is the point I’m trying to make.

Ever list “time management” as a skill in a job interview? I know I sure have. Ever sit back and think what that means, exactly? That you are particularly good at organizing all the hours of your day so that you can be as efficient as possible? Does being especially efficient make me happy? No. While I can understand that being organized leaves me more time – pun intended – to do what does make me happy, I always feel the dark cloud of time, accessibility, and technology hanging over my head.

Has technology robbed us of all the joy in life? Okay, even I admit that was a little melodramatic – but think about it! We grasp onto these new inventions like they are a cure for a terminal illness while we’re in our death throes. Do we ever stop and think about what it might mean to us as a society?

I honestly do not know how I would manage my life without technology, and especially keeping track of time – I wholeheartedly admit it – but it is this idea that I have to “manage” my life in the first place that bothers me.

An interesting video including audio of the infamous Zimbardo of the Stanford prison experiments speaking about personality characteristics he’s theorized are associated with certain orientations to time:

Critique of “Technics and Civilization” p. 12-18 by Lewis Mumford:

This was a particularly interesting reading and a great reading to introduce in week two of our Communications and Technology course. I speak only for myself of course, but I can imagine most people having their minds blown to truly think about this “product” of time that is created by the machine that is the clock. Of course, time is only a social construction – but that hasn’t stopped us from attaching such great meaning to time that it pervades every aspect of our lives. At least, it has stealthily made its way into nearly every aspect of my life, like a socially constructed ninja. I found the reading quite interesting, and thankfully, not so long that I couldn’t summarize it’s key components. It presents information in such a way that asks the reader to think critically.

Time: Stealthy like a Ninja! Image courtesy of superiormartialarts.com



Mumford, L. (1986). The Monastery and the Clock. In Fernyhough, L. (Ed.), Comm 105: Communication and Technology. Course Package: Winter 2012, (pp. 1-4). Victoria, BC: Camosun College Bookstore. (Reprinted from The Lewis Mumford Reader, 12-18).

  1. Lois says:

    Mumford really helps open our eyes to how we conceive of “time”. Something we can measure, synchronize … but we actually can never get more of. It’s a finite resource. Speaking of Zimbardo, Shelley references his TED talk video about time in her blog (week 2 musings). And I had heard of this infamous research but hadn’t realized Zimbardo was the prof behind this! Small world.

    • Zimbardo has actually done a lot of great research since the prison experiments, which of course were brought back into daily conversation a couple of years ago during the discussions of the behaviour of the American soldiers in Abu Ghraib. He’s written a few books, this time orientation being one of the topics. He’s also written a psych text that we use at Camosun. I think with the advent of social media like youtube and video lectures (such as the one I linked) that Zimbardo’s other research is becoming more recognized. Pretty cool if you ask me!

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