everything else, Farm Stories

Imagine A Clock That Doesn’t Surveil You



Warning: this article continues with my clock obsession.

Our phones today are also clocks, plus dictionaries, health trackers, music devices, cameras, social tools, payment methods – and, apparently, the method by which we choose to be surveilled and politically manipulated.

It’s all rather remarkable, but hardly the first time in history when device mania swept the population. It’s a luxury of being relatively rich, for every household or every person to acquire the things once limited to the elites.

In the eighteenth century, there were clocks in homes of the very rich, grandfather clocks that boomed the time all over the house to signal tea time and dinner and so on. Ah, to be a member of the leisure class! The clocks were extremely fancy. I was looking at originals just now at a high-end clock shop and they run about $17,000. It’s hard to know where most people would even put them today.

What changed in the second half of the 19th century – when Karl Marx and the rest of the bitter crew was scribbling about how the masses were being oppressed by capitalism – is that clocks started getting smaller, cheaper, and more accurate. By the beginning of the 20th century, America distinguished itself for its industrial capacity to produce clocks that were within the budget of every person. At its height, the Connecticut clock industry alone employed 35,000 people.

The American clocks were gloriously practical, made of wood and springs, in contrast to the older European ones made of stone and operated with weights. It was classic American ingenuity at work, serving the common person.

One thing I was missing in this story of history was a practical reason for why every home had to have one. I get that gizmos are fun and telling time is awesome but why the urgency on the part of consumers to buy one to the point that a massive new industry sprung up in the course of a few decades?

I threw the question to the mighty owner of Classic Clocks of Atlanta. Bernie the owner has been in business for 40 years. His bookshelf is a comprehensive library on the history of clocks. He seems to know everything. He can tell the period, country, and year of any clock with a glance. He lives and breathes the history. He loves every tick, every chime. And he loves to talk about clocks – in other words, a classic merchant who made a viable business out of a personal obsession.

So I asked why so many people in the late 19th century felt the need for a clock. His answer came quickly and it is so obvious once you hear it. People left the farms where the rooster and moon told the time. The seasons were what you lived and breathed because it was your job. But now their children were moving to the city to work in factories. Factories had strict hours. You had to get up at strange times, and you had to go to bed at a particular time. Their lives were regulated with more precision, so they needed a precision instrument to tell them what to do when.

This is when the clock became indispensable.

rest of article in the below link.  I very much enjoyed this article as I too have nothing but mechanical clocks on our little homestead. I love the sound of them. I love the tick tock-tick-tock. The chimes at the quarter, half and full hour.  excellent article on clocks.


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