Almeda Glenn Miller
Though by the dial’s steady stealth mayst know
Time’s thievish progress to eternity
Shakespeare – sonnet 77
Mechanical Watches and the Non-Mechanical Nature of Time
With all the technological advances made in the last century, why are mechanical watch sales on the rise? Quartz and digital watches are more accurate and less expensive than mechanical ones. Anyone who owns a cell phone has access not only to a phone wherever they are, but also a universally accurate source of time. Why then, with all these technologically superior, cheaper, more efficient options available in the area of time keeping are mechanical watches being sold in record numbers? Is it because mechanical watches have become a novelty item, much like hand sewn quilts or antiques? Or rather is it rather that in our quest to quantify time, we need it to be measured in some way we can see, hear, and feel. Mechanical watches give humanity some sort of grasp on a fundamental aspect of everyone lives that no one can alter, control, or even fully understand. To start on mankind’s obsession with time keeping, one must ask first “what is time?” We know it exists, and we no it moves forward but we have no means to concretely define it. A constant in our lives we can not see, hear, smell, touch or taste it. We can’t experience it in any way other than to see its effects on the world around us. No one can ever escape time’s influence, and perhaps this is why we have an inescapable need to pin it down. In the dictionary it is defined as being finite, a measurable distance of hours or minutes. That definition only works for periods in time though and does not apply to time as an entity in and of itself, eternal and constant. As humans we are the only species on the planet capable of questioning the nature of time, in fact we may be the only ones capable of recognizing time as aspect of our lives at all. This is because humans are a “temporal species” (Bradley 40). That is to say we maintain that we inhabit space not only physically, but temporally as well. This mastery of time allows us to preserve people and ideas that otherwise would be lost forever. As the only species that is able to recognize and acknowledge the passing of time, we are the only species capable of living past the “selective present” (Bradley 52), which means that we are able to think beyond the basic needs of the now (eat, sleep, mate, etc.). This allows us to look back in recollection to the past, and forward to the future. Just because we can recognize time however, does not mean we have the knowledge to understand it, or the ability to quantify it. Since we are unable to concretely define time then how are we to measure it. Or method of measuring time is only to break it into “predictable regularities” (Fraser 62), such as seconds, minutes, hours, days, and years. One problem with this method of measuring is that all measurements must be gained by comparisons with other time pieces (Fraser 62), this means you can have no truly accurate, and independent time source. This can be harder than one might think, in the words of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V “To think that I attempted to force the reason and conscience of thousands of men into one mold, and I cannot make two clocks agree.” (Fraser 62). The measurements that time is broken down into are also arbitrarily man made. Considering once time has past it is no longer quantifiable. An event that happened one hundred years ago versus one that happened one thousand years ago is relatively the same to people living today, in terms of relative distance of time. A ten fold increase in temperature would be much more noticeable. Another problem encountered when trying to quantify time is frame of reference. For most people the frame of reference by which they measure time is their own life (Fraser 70). Anything before a person’s birth and after their death is outside their...
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