Clock Extinction

September 16, 2009 at 11:37 am | Posted in The Knave | Leave a comment
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clockextLet’s face it.  Clocks ain’t what they used to be.  Nearly totally gone is the face clock.  This type of clock can only be seen on old buildings or in old movies.  Sometimes they are used as pieces of art, but they are essentially useless for the function of telling time.  Perhaps a watch might have a face instead of a digital display, but who wears watches anymore except as jewelry?  Again, they are just objects for show, not practical items.  Has the watch been wound?  Is the battery good?  Was it set correctly?  If you want to know what time it is, you take out your mobile phone, you don’t look at a watch.

Many saw this coming with the advent of digital display flip.  The clock was becoming faceless.  There were no longer any hands moving in one direction showing seconds, minutes and hours.  It could be argued that digital clocks are a good thing.  They are easier to read, because they give the exact time with no need to interpret three moving hands and coming to a decision on what time they represent based on their positions, lengths, and thicknesses.  9:32:27 is clearly displayed on a digital display, whereas with the face clock, the thickest and shortest hand would be above the nine, but not quite at the dot representing the place the ten would be and the middle thickness and length hand would be two notches past the six and half a notch on its way to the third notch, while the longest and thinnest hand would be two notches past the dot representing the five.  That is assuming all of the hands were properly calibrated to begin with.

Mechanical clocks are no longer used for telling time.  Nowadays, when people say the word “clock”, they are usually referring to number groupings in a digital image on their computer or cell phone.  Where clocks survive, and it is only the digital ones that do, is incorporated into other devices such as microwaves, digital video recorders, ovens, coffee makers, radios, cars, et cetera.  Of what use is an actual stand-alone clock?  Nothing beyond aesthetics. 

A digital animation of an analog clock face is too pointless to address in this article.  It would be like adding a feature to Google Maps where you had to virtually unfold the map before you could read it and the more times you did it, the town names along the creases became more difficult to read and if you refolded it wrong when you finished, tears would start to form to the point where you would have to apply virtual Scotch tape to your map, which would soon start to yellow, collect dirt, and peal.  Or how about an MP3 program that added scratches and pops and that you had to virtually flip so that it recreated the analog experience?

Digital displays are probably better than analog displays for clarity and electronic clocks that can be remotely updated and adjusted for accuracy and changes like daylight savings time are more convenient, but we must consider the impact on our language.

What will the children of the future think when we tell them to turn clockwise?  Unless they’ve seen Big Ben or an old city hall, they will never have seen a face clock and even if they have seen one, they may not have known that it was a time keeping device and how to read it.  If you had never used a face clock to tell time, how would you know which direction the hands normally turned?

We could go back to words used before clocks, such as deasil (sunwise) and widdershins (against sense).  Sun worshipers, such as the people who said things like “deasil” and “widdershins”, considered it a bad idea to travel in the direction opposite the sun, which made their armies easy to defeat, because all you had to do is get a little to the east of them and they would consider it bad luck to attack you and think you were blessed by their god because you were attacking sunwise.  Essentially, sun-worshiping civilizations could only travel north or south, because to go in any other direction and return would mean half of the journey was in defiance of god.  Perhaps they could travel west to east at night when the sun wasn’t around.  They’d probably still have to sacrifice a goat or something.  In any case, unless we go back to worshipping the sun, we are not going to say: “Screw the bolt in deasil and unscrew it by turning it widdershins.”  It’s just not going to happen.

We could simply remove the word from our language and say things like “Turn the dial dextral” (to the right) or “sinistral” (to the left).  Maybe we will some day just use left and right.  Really, the words clockwise and counterclockwise are totally unnecessary.

Still, there are other linguistic impacts.  When future generations hear that something “runs like clockwork”, what will they think?  They may say, “My clock is my cell phone, which runs the latest Microsoft Mobile OS, so what you are saying is that it runs like it will frequently crash and is prone to viruses?”  There are even religious implications.  William Paley’s “Watchmaker Argument” for God’s existence will now have to be reformulated as the “iPhone Argument”.

What about the word “wind” (that rhymes with “kind”)?  Kids today don’t wind anything anymore.  There are no watches or toys to wind, except maybe the timer on a board game. No one says to wind the clock anymore—they just reset it. This word will soon disappear. “Wind” will be gone with the wind.

Where does this leave us?  We should start getting used to eliminating clock terminology from our daily speech or end up sounding as ridiculous as our parents do when they ask us to “tape” something from TV or tell us that when they were dating they gave each other mixes of their favorite songs, which seems to have something to do with things called audiocassettes. (Researches here at the Naïve’s Guide think these were some sort of MP3 playlists saved onto an analog version of a flash drive to be physically exchanged rather than shared over the internet.)

If you find yourself about to use clock terminology, replace it with something current.  For example, at the bar, instead of saying “Hottie, 3 o’clock,” borrow some GPS terminology and say, “Hottie, turn east.”  Don’t say your firm has been “working around the clock,” say you’ve been “working so hard we haven’t even had time to Twitter.” – The Knave

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