Time, nothing but a figment of our imagination

September 13, 2011

The alarm on my cell phone rang at 7:00 this morning. As per my usual, I shut it off, then reset it for 7:30. I need to wake myself up in stages. I can’t function too well if I have to get up at the first awakening. After snoozing for a while, I realized that something didn’t seem right. It had been too long. I quickly looked at my cell and saw that it was before 7:00. Now I was confused.

I checked the clocks in the kitchen and sure enough, they all said the same thing: 6:55. Then my cell phone announced that I was in a new time zone: Mountain. Good thing as that’s exactly where I am. I realized that the earlier alarm must have gone off because the cell phone had switched to a different time zone, possibly Eastern standard time.

Not knowing what happened, I can only guess. Did I go astral-traveling and took my cell phone with me? Now that’s getting obsessive. It’s not that my cell phone is attached to me as it is. I often don’t hear it ringing because it’s in my purse. If I’m not that attached to it while awake, why would I be while I sleep? Maybe I wanted to be sure I was home in time. Who knows.

As I lay waiting for that second alarm to go off, now quite awake, I started thinking about time and what it means to us in North America. What would happen if the clock that keeps us all on time all of a sudden quit? What if the Greenwich Mean Time, by which we all set our clocks, simply one day just doesn’t work?

Time is an abstract concept. It is 100% man-made. There is nothing “natural” about it. The sun doesn’t rise or set at any specific time, it simply rises or sets when appropriate according to the earth’s rotation. It’s entirely a human concept that has attached a particular “time” to the sunrise and the sunset.

My thoughts turned to my practicum days as a student teacher. I had to cover the concept of time with a group of grade three students. I had eagerly and carefully planned out the curriculum. I was quite excited about sharing all of my engaging activities with my students. We covered the various ways humans have kept track of time throughout history: sundial, candle clock, water clock, rope clock, astronomical clock, pendulum clock.

I had an experiment planned for the students to complete over the weekend. The experiment involved the students to go a weekend without looking at the clock. Unfortunately, I misjudged the realities of eight year olds. As it turned out, this was a very easy feat for them as they usually did not concern themselves with the time anyway. Most of the questionnaires came back with comments like, “He doesn’t care about the time so he just came in for supper when I called him.” “She didn’t notice how much time had passed. She can’t tell the time anyway.”

So much for that experiment. Definitely the brainchild of a young adult without children and teaching experience. When I did gain teaching experience, I realized that teaching an abstract concept like “time” to eight year olds is a futile effort. They start to develop the ability to understand abstract concepts, like “time,” at around the age of ten years. No wonder it takes so many years to teach children about time. If we simply started teaching them about time in grade four or five, they would likely learn the concept in a matter of months, rather than years.

However, a child that does not know how to tell time before he is ten is at a grave disadvantage. Our culture is so dependent upon time. Time controls everything: when we get up in the morning and when we go to sleep. When we eat breakfast, have a snack, eat dessert. When we stop eating for the day. When we have coffee, when we have tea. When we relax in front of the television. When we challenge our physical prowess. When we buy groceries, when we buy clothes, when we buy school supplies. When we post our blogs, update our facebook pages, check our emails, and tweet. When we register our vehicle, renew our drivers’ licenses, pay our bills, cash our cheques.

It is difficult for many when we set our clocks forward in the spring and backwards in the fall. It was confusing when my cell phone decided to switch to a different time zone while I slept. I could not imagine what would happen if the Greenwich Mean Time decided to adopt a new time zone, or take a vacation.

For a brief history on clocks, go to the link:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clocks.

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