Sunday, October 02, 2016

On Time

Time is different at different places.

I am not restating the Theory of Relativity, but speaking more in social context. In fact, in the more practical sphere of business, this is a relatively unexplored issue. A source of much frustration, in fact, as the concept of time is assumed to be universal, based on which global deals are made and unmade. 

Time is an unspoken factor in globalisation. In the middle of all the tensions around globalisation, all the battles around identity and its preservation, the conception of time is a core issue, around which a battle of ideas is raging right now. It certainly deserves greater consideration than it gets now.

The job of writing brief histories of time should not only be left to cosmologists. The great historian, Fernand Braudel, spent a lifetime exploring time and space in history. But Braudel was mistimed, if we can use such an expression, as he was working on his groundbreaking studies of history and looking into la longue durée just as the World Economic structures were gearing up for unfettered globalisation, integration of China and India into global economy and a neo-liberal revolution focused on short term and measured time.

So, how is different conceptions of time possible? 

One part of the story of social time is technological, as maritime civilisations of Western Europe developed technologies of measuring time as a necessity - time is location in the middle of an ocean - and it permeated in other aspects of life. Another part of this story is institutional, the standardisation of clocks taking the function over from the Church Bells and taking over the rhythm of life through definition of market time. Yet another is personal and social, wherein a person's Experienced Time, the cycle of days and nights, the seasons, life and death, became subject to calendars and standards, and with industrial work, settled into a structure of weekdays and weekends, etc. 

The societies have experienced this conversion of time unevenly. There are large societies of people, agrarian and limited to local trade, which experienced time unevenly, without the necessity of a clock defining their being. The institution of time evolved differently in these societies, with the standardisation of measured time only came through the outsiders, the merchants, the adventurers and the priests, and created a multispeed society. Its personal and experienced time, keeping with the transformation of work from family-based to industrial and office jobs, and indeed from rural and semi-rural communities to cities, adapted to a wrap-around of measured time while continuing to be at the core.

While this continued to be that way, well beyond imperial control of the world, globalisation, in its attempt to impose an universal set of values and standards, now stirred up the hidden conflicts of time. And, on this conflict, more than one stance is possible. It is possible to see the hegemony of standardised and measured time as progress, a triumph of science and technology over superstitious dependence on religion. On the other hand, it is possible to see, and it is seen that way, a form of global control, an intrusion that shapes one's life intimately, recursively and irreversibly. And, despite the inevitable triumph of time's institutions, particularly in the cities and offices of the newly industrialised world, and even the adaptation of the rhythm of cultural and spiritual lives around the commercial calendars, the possibilities of rebellion remain potent along the hinges of time, It manifests differently, an undue deference to an astrologer, an over-the-top emotional commitment to tradition and family and even an unplanned, unreasoned break from career, but at the core, they express the conflicts of time, and its tenuous universality rather than the judgements we pass on so casually on the people living outside our concept of time - that they are work-shy, lack aspiration, and immature. 

   


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