Timekeepers by Simon Garfield (Part 1)

How the World Became Obsessed with Time

Introduction. The fisherman the author talked to didn’t want to improve his haul and fishing productivity and didn’t see a need to. Our modern world is filled with ambition. Do we want to be tracked by time all the time? Time is aggressive and dominates our lives. Everything is fast now, but we want them to be even faster. This book is about our obsession with time. Most people look at their phones for the time at least multiple times a day. This book will not deal with science fiction or time travel etc. This book will cover the more cultural and philosophical aspects of timekeeping.

Do we want the fishing life or the clock life? We want both. We envy those with a carefree existence but we don’t have time to examine it for long. We want more hours in the day but fear we’d probably only waste them. – Simon Garfield

The Accident of Time. There is saying that comedy is tragedy plus time. My son and I went to watch a football match. We had to decide what to eat etc. Should we leave the game early to avoid congestion but risk missing out on any last minute goal? Suddenly, while cycling in Hyde Park, I fell and injured myself. Time seemed to slow down and it took ages for the ambulance to arrive. My elbow was disfigured. I veered my bike in the wrong direction to avoid hitting a woman. This is a flashbulb moment in my life. The amygdalae in our brain causes the time to appear to slow down because it has the ability to capture vivid memories. While in the hospital, boredom hit me and time seemed to pass slowly too. Was everything by chance or was everything fixed? Can we lose control of something we had created? Seneca advised people to live life wisely and didn’t like the way most people spent their time in life. Most existence is merely time. Time gives a sense of order in life. The watch I was wearing was losing between 4 minutes and 10 minutes a day. However, I didn’t want time to conduct my life. The elbow surgery went well and I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Time waits for no man and that it was important people didn’t waste it. It suddenly dawned on me that everything was time dependent, like for instance, current affairs.

A good holiday is one spent among people whose notions of time are vaguer than one’s own. – J.B. Priestley

How the French Messed Up the Calendar. Ewan was an artist who was interested in time related works. The items chosen would decay at different times. She was trying to recreate the French Republican calendar. The calendar was only used for 12 years in late 1700s. The French reinvented the day with a clock with only 10 hours. She made the clocks to recreate history. The clocks are notoriously hard to read. Carl Linnaeus once proposed a clock made of flowers which would open and close at different times of the day. The French calendar was political and didn’t last long. The French calendar was also off because it did not build on religious calendars in the past. The Mayan calendar was also political and religious in nature. So were the Aztec calendars in the past. The Julian and Gregorian calendars are the ones we use today. Nostalgia was deemed as a disease in the past. Some people can’t bear to see their current state of living change. In modern days, we do not see it as a disease. We appreciate retro and vintage things. There is also a trend towards slower living and incorporating mindfulness concepts etc. There were people in the past who tried to halt the passage of time but obviously failed. It was a fanciful idea in the past.

The Invention of the Timetable. The Mallard was a fast British steam locomotive. To make it, you can purchase the instructions. All 30 pieces of the instructions will cost you a thousand pounds. The Mallard was built to reduce travel time. Mallard was revolutionary at the time. It hit one of the steam train records during that time. Train speeds have progressed through time. Now, trains can easily hit 200 mph. The steam train was invented in the 1800s in UK. It changed the world and hastened the speed of ideas and industry. It would do away with horses. The railway changed the value of time. The economy and everyone was excited at that time. The issue was that different cities had different times and you had to adjust the time when you got to the new city. There were reference times on the trains you could follow. The railway station clocks had to be synchronized accurately. Later on, the idea that time along the train route should be the same no matter where a passenger alighted or departed. This was the notion of standardized time. Later, it was an offence to display the wrong time on buildings. The German trains were very efficient. Germany adopted the precision of Greenwich. In the US, before standard time was formed, timing was an issue too. Standard time was introduced in the US in 1883. Railway timetables were commonplace by then. There were also conferences held twice a year.

The Beet Goes on. Symphony 9th was first performed in 1824. It was revolutionary. Beethoven composed it when he was nearly deaf. He conducted the piece with gusto and bravado. How could someone who is deaf compose something so majestic? The Ode to Joy in the 4th movement is simply epic and grand. He didn’t specify the timing for the movements. The composer gets to determine how long the piece will last. The tempo was first derived from the human heartbeat and the human stride. Presto means very fast. Beethoven didn’t comply with the idea of tempo. The metronome was invented at that time and it was revolutionary. Beethoven made use of the metronome. The metronome was tremendous. Has our measurement of time changed over time? Just how long should a CD be? In the past, LPs could not even contain one full symphony. Later, the CD was born. How much information should a disc contain? The initial playing time was set to 1 hour. Everyone welcomed the CD as you could pause, repeat, scan back, copy etc. The problem is that no more bought CDs when there was SoundCloud and Spotify. The Beatles. At their time, LPs were considered amazing and revolutionary. In some way, the length of musical performances are determined by technical constraints of recording. Before LPs, the sound quality was really poor. In the past, each LP or cassette could only record for a short period of time. The concerto recital and a recorded version might also differ slightly due to vibrato, resonance etc. Lewisohn works and documents the Beatles’ journey.

Should the musical time allotted to a work at a particular period in history necessarily feel correct in a modern, faster life many decades later? Will innovation always date? – Simon Garfield

How Much Talking is too much Talking. In the Time of Moses. I attend a free conference which had free hotel stay etc. I was required to speak for 17 minutes. This was known as IdeaCity. Every speaker was given 17 minutes too. This was the sweet spot and the audience could concentrate on the talk. This was similar to Tedtalks, which gave speakers 18 minutes. Moses ran IdeaCity. 17 minutes is an unforgiving short time. Over time, I practised speaking and got the hang of public speaking. If you ended the talk early, Moses would ask you questions. Time became the enemy when I only had 17 minutes. However, the audience didn’t know that I only had 17 minutes. In the end, I did exceed the allotted time by 7 minutes. However, I realized an over-concentration of time wasn’t really productive for me. Learn to talk it over. Strom Thurmond delivered the longest continuous speech in the history of American politics. He talked for a long time. It was a performance. He argued for why the bill should not be passed. Thurmond spoke to dawn since 9pm. It went on till 1:40pm the next day, a total of 17 hours. At 7:21pm, he broke the record. People were concerned about his health and at 9:12pm, he shut up. In the end, his effects were in vain. Many did not respect him from doing it too. There is an argument that less is more nowadays, and people dislike long speeches. The ideas of all these speeches is not to run out of steam. Nowadays, it is a must to stay on topic.

But filibusters have always been more than just attaining victory; they are about passionate intent, and about intensity of belief; the greater the intensity, it is argued, the more voters and politicians should take note of a cause, for the more it will dominate the agenda. – Simon Garfield

Movie Time. Symbolism is tantalising. LLoyd was famous. Some people see movies as a form of escapism. They show us a version of perceived reality. William Carey Strother was a human spider. There was a lot of technique involved in climbing a building. Oncoming train. In the past, when people saw a train coming towards them on the screen, they were afraid. The concept of time speeded up when people were enjoying the film. In the past, there were silent films. The rates at which the films were made matter as well.

Horology Part 1: How to Make a Watch. A very difficult floor. I was given the tools to make a watch. Christian Bresser was my instructor. A mechanical watch is usually made under the same principles. It usually takes a craftsman more than 10 years to hone their skills. I have only 50 minutes to learn. IWC is a renowned Swiss brand with huge expertise. They are known for their big pilot’s watch. All these are certainly attractive watches. They are not flashy in nature. They make watches for the purists. They invite customers on guided tours of their factory. Watch assembly is relatively easy and can be memorized. On the other hand, watchmaking is a whole new ball game. One of the master craftsman is a guy named Romulus Radu. F. A. Jones brought know how and revolutionized the watchmaking industry. Assembling a watch was a difficult task for me. Aligning the pivot with jewels and inserting a barrel encasing the mainspring were certainly challenging. The intricate parts are indeed very costly. It is also the handicraft and human hands and the knowledge that has been passed down from generations. IWC has faced many challenges in its history, like watch trends, currency markets etc. Now, another challenge it faces is a computer company. It is the Apple Watch. No one knows the impact of the Apple Watch, like whether it can have such a big impact as the quartz crisis in the 1970s and 1980s. Now, some Swiss brands are also working on smart watches. IWC introduced their IWC Connect. Why is the Swiss industry so renowned for their watches? Given that it didn’t invent the mechanical watch? The Swiss watchmaking industry was aided by the arrival of Huguenot refugees from France. The balance spring was created by Christiaan Huygens and Robert Hooke. By 1690, there were many watchmakers in Switzerland. Watchmaking schools also emerged. The Swiss formed trade bodies and certification targets to boost the industry. Export figures were impressive. The Swiss neutrality during the war also helped them as they were not disrupted. There are now strict rules as to what classifies a watch to be ‘Swiss Made’. Nicholas Hacko is a watch repairer. The Swiss have always tried to protect their own watch repairers and do not trust independent watch repairers. Every 3 or 4 years, our Earth’s rotation differs from the UTC by 1 second and it is necessary to adjust. This is known as the leap second. In the past, this would cause mayhem to airports and planes’ schedules.

If you lose or drop anything don’t try to find it, it’s a very difficult floor. We never, ever, touch the movement with our fingers. Why? Sweat. Your sweat will chew into the decoration of the movement roughly one to two months later, and then you can throw the watch away. – Simon Garfield

Watchmaking is another art altogether, something it would takes years rather than weeks to learn, and requires not only steely patience and concentration, and a deep understanding of mechanics, but also practical inspiration. – Simon Garfield

Watch winders are not for lazy people. If you have a collection of automatic watches that are wound by being worn on the wrist, you need to keep them turning with power. It’s also a nice way to show them off. – Simon Garfield



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