Perspectives on Time-keeping

Mitch Hobish Growth, Innovation

A recurrent topic of discussion around here is the way technologies that we grew up with ‘Way Back When are being superseded by newer ones.  An underlying assumption in many of these conversations is that folks much younger than we are losing out in some way as these transitions take place.

Today I became aware of another such, with the concomitant, “What a loss!”  Let me tell you about the loss that I saw.

I was timing something in the kitchen, using an analog clock.  While I have many devices that use digital displays, I have long felt that they don’t support the concept of the cyclical nature of events, as the digital count-up by ever-changing digits is inherently linear, without reference to an interpretive framework.

Analog devices, on the other hand, present time as the movement of indicators in front of a static display, which allows the observer to establish some perspective, to see movement, rather than a simple series of numbers.  Functionally, it also makes it very easy to see how much time is left in a given interval, without have to do any mental gymnastics to subtract the current value on a digital timepiece from some projective value that would demarcate the end of a chosen interval.

While I have had this internal (and, to be sure, at-times external) conversation before, today brought with it a new realization:  I’m sure that someone, somewhere bemoaned the move away from sundials in favor of analog timepieces.  “Why, these youngsters aren’t in touch with the cosmos anymore!  They don’t see the way the Sun’s shadow moves around the face of the sundial!  What a loss!”  etc.

I must acknowledge that without an opportunity to compare these different modalities head-on, there is no reason to think a new way of doing things, e.g., digital timekeeping, implies loss.  But it sure feels that way.

Questions:  Because something is older, does that mean it’s better?  Because something is newer, does that mean it’s better?  Do you make decisions based on precedent?  Upon what criteria do you make decisions, regardless of the focus?  Can you justify them to yourself?  Do you have to?