KEEPING WATCH: The History of American Time by Michael O'Mally

KEEPING WATCH: The History of American Time

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An engaging discussion of the cultural impact of modern timekeeping on our society, by a New York Univ. history professor. Looking back on the rural existence of the 19th century, one wonders what became of that hard-working but somehow more leisurely time. It was lost to industrialization, technology, and the linking effects of increased commerce and faster modes of transportation, claims O'Mally, as he traces our society's gradual adjustment from ""natural"" time, determined by the sun, to the artificial, atomically determined moments that currently oversee our days. America's first settlers needed little more than a farmer's almanac to keep their lives in order, and travel in the 1600's was so slow that local changes in time were hardly noticed. It was only when distance began to shrink at the hands of the railroads, and when factories were established that required maximum output per day, that time became both an important issue and a dominating force. Once a rarely consulted domestic servant, the clock was transformed into a symbol of power in the hands of factory owners and headmasters. And as industrialization spread, so did citizens' ambiguous feelings regarding the ""unnatural"" imposition of daylight-saving time, time-efficiency studies, punch-clocks, and even motion pictures' manipulated time. Currently, ""time-saving"" computers and fax machines have us laboring increasingly under the heavy hand of a self-imposed, ever-ticking master. The solution? O'Mally suggests that perhaps our increasing concern for the environment will foster a rediscovery of the rhythms of natural time. Only time, he concludes, will tell. An arcane topic made palatable, at times even entertaining.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1990
Publisher: Viking