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all the time in the world

For The Times, They Are A-Changin'...

By Allan Eastman

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Is Time Money?

Ford assembly line, 1913

Industrialization and technological developments accelerated the pace of commerce, and of life. Pictured above is the Ford assembly line in 1913.

For most of our history, humans have operated within a so called “natural” cycle of Time. For people in old Sumeria, in ancient Egypt and right up through the medieval period, the presence of the Sun set the limits of the day for most folks. You awoke with the sunrise and went to bed with the sunset. Days and weeks weren’t all that important, except for market day and for certain religious observances. The seasons were more relevant – planting, nurturing, harvesting, decay.

The natural cycles seem to have become deeply programmed into both the human physiology and the psyche.

Time measurement Tools introduced some fragmentation into this – sundials and water clocks allowed more specific meeting times to be set and calendars told you where you were in the year but overall life remained slow and still tuned to light and darkness. Church bells and mullah’s calls told you when to pray. There was a “campaigning season” in which to make war.

Two forces collided in the Renaissance period to begin to change all this. The use of mechanical clocks to register the Time of day, combined with the rise of capitalist commerce, began to propel the human race into a different relationship with Time. From the beginning and at many stages throughout, many people were resistant to the changes that these forces brought on. Time basically came to be used as a commodity, something that could be measured and apportioned in smaller and smaller lots.

In the West, this marks the point when Time really begins to shift from something that had been fundamentally biologically based to something that includes a cultural imperative, as well. Time begins to shape and dominate society. Life begins to follow a schedule.


Industrialization and technological developments accelerate this process. The 19th century factory worker starts to punch a mechanical time clock at the beginning and end of his 14 hour work day. He is paid a certain pittance per hour. If he wants more money, he has to work more hours. Capitalism wants to go faster and faster – make more goods in less time to make more money. No one knows who first said “Time is Money!” – one pictures a Monopoly board Robber Baron - but it was probably said long before that. It is the absolute expression of the Industrial Age. Time becomes irretrievably linked with commerce. Minutes and seconds become the currency of efficiency.

As commerce begins to join religion as the dominant force in western societies, there is even a new belief structure shaped to blend them together and justify it all – the Protestant Ethic. If you do well in society, succeed by becoming rich, then this shows that you are one of the Chosen, one of those favored by God. Economic imperatives drive people onward; that is, forward in Time. The dream of Heaven is increasingly replaced by the dream of the fruits of success – good food, a nice home, a better life for one’s children. The idea of future reward ceases to be spiritually based; now it is material.

Inventions like Henry Ford’s assembly line to mass produce his cars further speeds up the pace of commerce, and of life. The worker becomes literally a cog in a vast, nonhuman machine, doing the same repetitive task endlessly all day long - and increasingly at a faster pace. The growth of physical and mental breakdowns among the workers under the stress of these labors is noted but initially, not a great deal is done about it.

The human race becomes the Rat Race.

There is no denying that this new manipulation of Time and its application to the forces of production led to the greatest explosion of wealth creation in the history of the World. Despite the exploitation and no small cost in human misery, a new kind of society was created that deployed a better overall standard of living for a greater number of people. Higher nutrition levels and longer life spans resulted and many great advances in science and technology were funded.

This western idea was exported to the rest of the world along with the trade and commerce. One of the main learning tools as other societies emulated the west was the teaching of western ideas about Time – the use of the clock and the dividing of a day into hours, minutes and seconds. Japan, for example, took readily to the concept and quickly transformed itself from an agrarian feudal culture to a powerful industrialized state, virtually overnight.

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