Digital Deletes Diameter

Kathryn - Tyaskin, Maryland
Entered on August 9, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: creativity

I believe in analog clocks. It bothers me that some young people, my 13-year old daughter among them, find it troublesome to read a clock face. My daughter prefers time to click ahead, minute by minute, and struggles to comprehend the division of time into slices of pie.

Back when she was a toddler, as her shoes schlurped together with Velcro, I feared that society would lose the skill of tying shoelaces. Thank goodness we dodged that bullet. We can still manage all types of knotty problems. However, I am concerned about time.

In our kitchen, the table sits in the middle. When we all sit down to a meal we are surrounded by time: my daughter sits facing the digital clocks on the stove and the CD player. Her older sister’s seat faces the microwave and coffee pot timers. I look at the analog wall clock. My husband faces the refrigerator. (That’s another sort of time; another essay.) When I remark that it’s about twenty minutes to seven, a puzzled look crosses my daughter’s face; then she glances at the stove clock and comprehends: 6:38. But she missed the “about.” Do we need the precision of the exact minute? Maybe sometimes, when we have to catch the school bus or dismantle a bomb, but not when we’re in family time. I think she misses the “before seven,” too. Of course she knows that 7 o’clock comes after 6 o’clock, but the visual chunk of that time is not before her.

Chunks and circles: that is time, not isolated minutes. As the hands move around the face of an analog clock, I have perspective. I can see not only where I am, but where I’ve been, and where I’m going. And I’ve been there before. I can easily see what a half an hour from now is by visualizing a line across the diameter of the pie. I can chunk my time into five-minute slices and see that I need to start the rice fifteen minutes before I put the vegetables into the stir fry. And I know that when the big hand reaches the eleven, I’ll be where I want to be.

I am not a Luddite; I’m willing to make room in my life for new technologies and their benefits, but I want to be able to look back, too. What will happen when future scholars see references to “quarter past the hour”?

I believe society needs the sense of time and perspective that analog clocks give us. Clock faces encourage a way of thinking that the linear march of a digital clock cannot. The roundness of time does more than measure our minutes, hours, and days. It shapes our outlook. Isn’t a quarter of an hour an important thing?