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Clock-Time Has Colonized Our Minds

I hear this all the time when I meet up with friends I haven’t seen in a while “You’re very active on Linkedin”

My response is: “Ehhhh, I guess”

I only spend 30 minutes on Linkedin (in a week).

I find that the same people that say I’m very active, spend more time on Linkedin in one day than I do in a week. 

I’m hardcore with my time.
No time to waste.
You know what they say: “Time is money”

But wait! Who said that?

What’s your rate?

If you don’t mind me asking – what’s your hourly rate?

Do you know what you can charge for 1 hour of your time? 

In terms of knowing your “market value”, these numbers should be top of mind for you, particularly in a system that trades on quantifying a qualitative attribute like time.

“Time is money” as a phrase dehumanizes our experience of life.

We don’t fully understand this abstract thing called ‘time’. However, we’ve divided it into something that is fungible so we can measure ourselves and everything against it.

This has created generations of clock-productivity drones, living a rotary life of always doing.

“oh, I’m too busy”
“Look at my google calendar. Color-coded to show you how important I am”

Your computer, the new office, follows you around. Tracking your every move. A slick silver reminder of productivity.

We have come to believe that filling up each “productive hour” is what makes us worthy. Worthy of recognition, of income, and of love.

Have you ever questioned where this around-the-clock busyness came from? 

“But If we don’t have clock time, how will we synchronize?”

Hold up. I’m not trying to bring disorder to your life.

Clocks help us synchronize, great!

But do question its ubiquitous use to measure human capability, productivity, and worth.

Fungible clock time was made to divide labor into modular units that can be controlled. It was a system developed to colonize, extract, and make profits.

Break away from clock-time rigidity to discover your true self, tap into the creation and community economy, and detach from the extraction community.

Rethink your relationship with clock-time because each passing minute is not created equal.

The 7-way evolution of clock-time and labor

Clocks originated somewhere.

When you become more aware of its origin story, you will understand why we’re here and where we could possibly go with it.

Your life will be less of a race against time. You’ll question the matrix you are in, adjust your relationship with time outside clock time, and view things differently.

You’ll stop being money-rich and time-poor. 

Here are 7 steps in the evolution of clock-time.

1. The origin (for whom the bell tolls)

Clock time started off with prayers.

Growing up in Lagos, there was the comforting call of early morning prayers blaring out of the speakers from the nearby mosque. 

I knew it was morning and the dangers of the night had been evaded. 

Did you know clocks started with calls for prayers? Christian prayers though.

Before clocks, we timed our day with the sun. The observation of time was not separated from nature itself. 

The rigidity of time started with the sixth-century Benedictine Christian monks.

The monks prayed 7 times a day and they were doing most of the time-tracking with their bell towers.

Five centuries later, this was taken to the next level by Cistercian monks that emphasized punctuality and efficiency.

These monasteries became sticklers for time, dishing out punishment for being late.

The bells were more of an alarm system for coordination. 

It was later used by the bourgeois class to measure the bounds of a day’s worth of work purchased from workers that had only one thing to sell – “their labor time”

Rigid and divisible time came about to coordinate prayers between monks. It was later used to monitor and centralize labor.

2. The exportation of time

Clock time has colonized your experience.

When I started working in 2008, I’d log my timesheets on Friday. It was a decent experience when compared to the factories I consulted for. 

My factory comrades funneled into work and “clocked” their time.

I soon started drinking the American kool-aid. “Time is money. When you talk, you gotta be quick.”

I never questioned the origin of the system I was in.

Not too long after the monks developed a system for praying, “being on time” soon became linked to exploration, extraction, and profits.

European explorers were swiftly crossing oceans.

Pendulums could measure time but they were not good at sea because of how the movement of the ship affected the pendulum.

The Marine Chronometer came about in the 18th century as the British expanded their colonial exploits and exported this form of time-control to their colonies.

Just like any business idea these days, it begins with exploration then turns into exploitation. 

That’s what the clock did for the explorers.

“Likewise, in the philippines and Mexico, Spanish colonists would convert natives into Spanish subjects by placing them bajo las campanas (“under the bells”)

~ Saving Time, Jenny Odell

Exploration led to the development of clock-time. It’s also linked to control and exploitation of land and labor.

3. The universalization of time

Universal synchronization came with electricity and railroads.

I used to pride myself in “being on time” and reliable – trying to break away from the perception of “Nigerian or African time”

It’s what the go-getters do, right?

Or was I just sold the concept by some clock puppet master?

As these brave adventurers ventured across colonies from Africa, Asia, to the Americas, the need for synchronization came about.

Electricity and radio waves helped with this.

But it was not a matter of academic exploration, railroads, telegraphs, and financial centers drove this synchronization.

In the 1850s, “master clocks” in Greenwich, England exported Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) by sending electrical pulses to “slave clocks” to make sure we are all tick-tocking accordingly.

Before this, every location had its own version of a local time.

Then more proponents of “non-local time” came about in the US and Canada with the expansion of the railroad system and a need to synchronize schedules across vast space and time.

This led to definite time zones and global time as we know it.

The globalization of time came from the need to synchronize commerce across colonies. Between the “old world” and the so-called “new world”.

4. The industrialization of time

The clock is the greatest innovation of the industrial age.

You are reading this letter on a device – a phone, tablet, or personal computer. 

Before the personal computers invaded every household, the computing innovation was driven by one company – IBM.

Although incorporated in 1911, IBM’s origin can be traced back to the end of the 19th century with a lineage from the International Time Recording Company (ITR).

ITR was formed when Bundy Manufacturing Company and two time machine equipment companies merged.

Willard Bundy, the founder of Bundy Manufacturing, started his entrepreneurial journey by selling a clock-labor monitor to factory managers.

Punching the clock,” where an employee punches their card into the clock, with their exact work hours logged onto it, was invented by the grandfather of IBM.

The factory manager with the clock became the sole proprietor of every worker’s labor.

The clock is still very important in the information age. It’s the very thing that drives the billions of processing behind computers.

This lineage keeps going deep as we transition from the information to the automation age.

“the greatest invention during the industrial revolution is not the steam engine but the clock”

~ Your brain is a time machine, Dean Buonomano

The clock has been used to industrialize your mind.

5. The 8-hour work-day

Have you had enough of me yapping about clock and time – and labor?


You want more? You little Oliver Twist. 

Well, OK then. Let’s go.

But let’s reverse this vehicle a bit before we move forward again.

During the beginning of the industrial revolution, everyone had to move away from their agrarian life towards crowded cities to get jobs in the factories. The children too.

Oliver Twist, a fictional character by English writer Charles Dickens, was a young orphan that was raised in a workhouse. 

Dickens was depicting poverty in industrial England.

In fact, it was the plea against 12 -14 hours work days for CHILDREN working in the British Mills that started the ripple effect to limit the number of hours spent in the factory.

By 1830, there was a nationwide campaign to limit children’s work day to 10 hours.

These demands did not come without resistance. Labor protests were met with police force.

Almost a century later, in 1926, Ford Motors was among the first companies to adopt the 40-hour work week. Then congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act to put this to law.

It took us a while to get to 8-hour work days. The fight against fungible time rages on.

6. The labor-time follower

Your keystroke is the new punch card.

Back at work again in ‘08, I got a work cell phone. I was happy. 

It made my 21-year old self feel important. 

Some of the older colleagues were not as flattered.

I remember one saying: “now they are going to be calling us even when we are on the road. Jeez. Going on site was the one way to get away from the office.”

That was just the beginning. Fast forward 15 years and all corporate devices have made their ways into our homes. 

There was once upon a time when your home was a sanctuary. 

A place to disconnect and recharge. Now with technological advances, our work follows us everywhere. 

On our phones, laptops, slack channels. 

There is no place to hide again. Jesu! Save us o!

Your employer can check in on your usage of the labor-time they purchased.

Are you online?
How many keystrokes have you typed today?

With the constant dings, rings, and pings, it’s hard to unplug from the workday.

Flexible time is a growing myth. 

Clock-time produces a never-ending productivity cycle of always looking busy.

7. The Self-timer

Hustle culture and its “productivity bros” are a symptom of time scarcity.

*Hand raised* 

“I am guilty, your honor. I have been partaking in hustle culture.”

I thought that’s what I was supposed to do as I broke away from the corporation to start my own business.

Stay busy
Stay hustling
Stay grinding

Was I being real with myself or just partaking in a culture that reinforced time scarcity?

“What’s up bro?”
“Let’s crush the morning, bro”
“Ain’t that right bro”
“Are you my bro?
Cos I’m a bro!
Let’s all bro it out together, bro.”

Bootstrapping entrepreneurs have taken the same approach of fungible time from the office into our personal lives.

The self-help section is littered with endless advice. 

“If we all have 24 “equal hours” in the day, the only way to achieve more is to be more efficient.”

The factory method that segmented fungible time into a spreadsheet is now applied directly to one’s self.

Even when you escape the industrial and corporate structure, if you have been indoctrinated in fungible time, you will continue to use it in your life.

Final thoughts

Placing clock-time on time is like placing a grid on a diverse landscape.

All minutes are not created equal.

Time fungibility was designed on extraction that feeds a system, which cares about one thing – profits.

Understand that the clock was invented to control and synchronize the actions of people.

Synchronization is good for collective action, but as you go through your day and weeks, question what you are synchronizing for.

If you don’t question it, someone holding the clock will question and prescribe that answer for you.

Break away from the rigidity of clock time and the productivity culture that it has built. 

Find your own rhythm and tap into the communal creative life force that we are all immersed in.

Who is Nifemi?

Hey I’m Nifemi of NapoRepublic

I help busy people fit in a creative practice to bring to bring order to their reality and help them live a more meaningful life through writing and reflection.

Sculpt your story

Know thyself, build a second brain, and unleash your creativity with writing. All in one journaling, note-taking, and dots-connection method that fits into your busy life.