Can we live without time?


Time – it’s a funny little concept, something that has the ability to control our entire day.

Waking to the sound of an alarm clock; bus timetables, Monday morning meetings, lunch time; avidly watching the clock for 5:30pm to roll around then home-time, dinner-time, bed-time.

Time keeping

We’re all aware that the clock is a man-made concept. However, since the first appearance of the mechanical clock in the early 14th Century, the time-keeping device has slowly but surely become incredibly ingrained in our day-to-day life.

The pocket-watch was the first time-keeping device that people carried around with them, however it certainly wasn’t as heavily relied on as our modern-day wrist-watches or mobile phones for checking the time. The first, main, clock appearance on a building was first recorded in 1309, on the face of a Church tower in Italy, but rather than people avidly arranging their days around the hands of the clock, it was introduced as more of a lightly used time keeping device.


“A clock is a little machine that shuts us out from the wonder of time.”  –
 Susan Glaspell

However, for thousands of years, devices have been created to track and record the time. Far simpler than our clocks and watches nowadays, but still surrounding the same idea, devices such as sun-dials, candle clocks and the hour glass were all invented to track the time of day. The complexity of these devices were nothing in contrast to the pocket watch that would later be invented, and they certainly weren’t as religiously relied upon, but the basis of the idea was still there.

Over the Summer, Ollie and I decided to spend a day with no idea of the time. We spent the majority of the day outdoors, so obviously had an idea of the time of day due to the position of the sun, but that’s as far as our recollection of the time went. One thing that was bought to our attention, was the difficulty of avoiding knowing the current time in the digital world. With our mobile-phones now bearing the time on the lock screen, and most cars having a digital clock fixed to the dashboard, avoiding the time either means going back to basics or being rather mindful about where the time is displayed and how you consume it.

“One thing that was bought to our attention, was the difficulty of avoiding knowing the current time in the digital world. With our mobile-phones now bearing the time on the lock screen, and most cars having a digital clock fixed to the dashboard, avoiding the time either means going back to basics or being rather mindful about where the time is displayed and how you consume it.”

After spending the day without time, we noticed a few things. One, as stated above, was that clocks/time is everywhere, whether it be on your phone, computer, or car, or quite simply the fact that people seem to talk about the time of day in conversation more than you’d first realise, it’s difficult to avoid. In fact, whilst lay on the beach, a group of students who’d headed to the beach for what I assume to be an end of term trip, discussed the time – not once but twice – obviously, keeping not only themselves but us also in the loop of the time. There was also, once, when we noticed the time on the car dashboard, in the morning … Which we soon learnt from.

Secondly, we noticed how much more intuitive we become with things such as eating and sleeping. Likely enhanced by the fact we were looking at our phones less, we went to sleep earlier than usual (well, I believe it was earlier than usual, of course we didn’t know for certain with no record of the time), and we ate exactly when we felt hungry – with no time cues of breakfast, lunch or dinner time. I also felt like we made more of the day, with no interruptions or distractions from the time, we got up and headed out quicker than we usually would and based the day off of what felt right rather than by the time having any power over the structure of the day.

“A Clock is not time; it’s numbers and springs. Pay it no mind.” – Peter S. Beagle

We listened to our bodies.

Admittedly, our day held no prior arrangements or commitments, neither of us had a job at this point, and we were living in mid-Wales, where the majority of our days were spent in the blissful ignorance of the time of day. Days were spent at the beach, enjoying walks in the sunshine or exploring places where quite frankly knowing the time just wasn’t really necessary.

Our bodies are designed to run to the amount of day-light and our bodily needs and functions. We should eat when we’re hungry and sleep when we’re tired. The circadian-rhythm is, in essence, our natural ‘body-clock’. Its responsible for controlling when we sleep, the course of our sleep and when we wake. The circadian rhythm promotes alertness in the morning, once we wake, and as the day continues the circadian rhythm shall then begin to fall until the onset of sleep begins to take place.

Don’t get me wrong – the concept of the clock, and use of ‘time’ is incredibly handy – but is it as necessary as we are made to believe?


“Freeing yourself from the structure of time is rather liberating. It’s become so incredibly etched into the routine of our day, that it’s become almost impossible to live without the clock.”

Without relying on the time, as heavily as we often do, there would be missed meetings and appointments; regular complaints from your boss as to why you’re consistently turning up late; you’d surely, be regularly late for events and parties … Also, likely too late to par off as ‘fashionably late’.

Our world is run on time-keeping.
But you don’t need to be.

Freeing yourself from the structure of time is rather liberating. It’s become so incredibly etched into the routine of our day, that it’s become almost impossible to live without the clock.

But you can. I’m not going to sit here, and advise that you sack the clock on day’s where you’ve got prior engagements – work, university, fetching the kids from school… You get the idea. However, choose a suitable day, and stick with it. Let’s say, for the sake of this post, we choose a Sunday.

Wake naturally, eat when you’re hungry, head out for a Sunday walk when you feel like it – perhaps arrange it by whether it’s still light outside, or not? Free from the restrictions of time, even just for a day, or half a day for that matter, you’ll find new benefits, and quite undoubtably some negatives of letting go of time, too.

Of course it’s not a realistic or maintainable approach to modern-day living, unless you’re living on a far-away island where the commitment of time just isn’t needed. But, it’s a fun experiment to try out, just to test how reliant we are on time and keeping in check with the clock.

And in the mist of it all, you’ll likely be checking your phone less, so who am I to argue!

Check out this Headspace article on giving up time for a week.

Find more information on the history of time here and on the circadian rhythm here

 

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