High school graduation is a coming of age event, when young boys and girls move out into the world to become men and women. As with many previous generations, my parents commemorated this occasion by giving me a beautiful black and gold wristwatch. “You are a man now, you need to know what time it is.”
As a child, I don’t remember being aware of the time. Babies are notorious for not following a schedule, they sleep when they are tired and they eat when they are hungry. Young children seldom want to sleep when it is “bed time”, there are too many exciting things to see and do. “But I’m not hungry, I don’t want to eat dinner. I want to play!” is a common refrain heard across the world
During the summers of my early years, I would roam the neighborhood with friends until dinner time, playing with dirt and sticks. My father would yell out my name from the porch, and I would race home on my bike to eat with my family. Often I was out of earshot and would return home only when hunger struck (and often to a lecture in this case.)
During the school year, the alarm clock would get me up to catch the bus, the school bell would herd us to the next class, and the final bell sent us to our various afternoon activities before our parents finally sent us to bed. There was an orderliness to it all, everybody marching in unison, doing the same things at the same time. The only reason to know the days of the week was because the weekend meant the school bells wouldn’t ring
Things became steadily more complicated with increased age and responsibility. Employers of high school and college students are seldom forgiving when it comes to tardiness. “Next time you plan to arrive late, don’t come at all.” In college, I once woke late for an 8 am physics test. After sprinting the 3 blocks to class in the rain, I was only 30 minutes late. “You can still take the exam, but all of the exams are due at 9 am, yours included.” Not following a schedule had consequences. (Somehow I still managed to finish first.)
In the working world, the computer and smartphone reminders send us off to our next meeting. Work deadlines are inflexible, and that report is due… It is going to be a long night. Or weekend. “I know you were thinking of taking next Friday off, but the people for the Johnson account are going to be in town.”
To this day, as a population the clock drives us, the needs and signals of our bodies long forgotten. The alarm clock sends us into the office. Caffeine gets us up and going, and gets us over that midday hump. Lunch time is decided by our schedule, not our stomach. A little stress induced insomnia is nothing a sleeping pill or glass of wine can’t handle.
There’s something strangely inhuman about this clockomania. In order to avoid the economic and social consequences of not following the schedule, we exact health consequences on our minds, bodies, and families. We have needs that shift with the seasons, but yet we keep doing the 9 to 5 come winter or summer, rain or shine. We need periods of rest, but those needs are often secondary to the needs of the office. A family needs time together, but we spend more time with our coworkers than our children.
It takes a long time to unwind the programming of a lifetime, to return to that carefree childlike state. After 6 months of not working, I am now occasionally unaware of what day of the week it is. The time of day is but a vague feeling, left unmeasured. My body has begun to talk to me regularly: I am hungry, sleepy, energized, thirsty, feeling social or amorous. Being able to hear it, and listen, brings a sense of peace I find difficult to describe. What time is it? I’m not certain. I am only here, now, in this moment.
What would the world be like without wrist watches, alarm clocks, and school bells? A world where people wake naturally and recharged? A world where people pursued their passions, and working more when they felt inspired and less when they didn’t. A world where balance in life is normal. Could we trade a little of that incredible rise in human productivity over the past 100 years for a little more time instead of a few more material possessions?
Is this just some hippie crap from a guy that has obviously lost all connection with the Protestant work ethic? Would the world collapse into economic chaos and anarchy as our lazy natures brought productivity to a halt? Or would a new utopia arise with happy people pursuing their creative interests, bringing health and prosperity to all?
I believe the latter is closer to the truth. Why? Because like a child, I don’t want to go to bed. There are too many exciting things to see and do!