I just began reading Neil Postman’s 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death. I’ve quoted from it several times over the years, but have never read it. I’m 15 pages in, and though enjoying it, I have to say that it can be overly wordy at times.
Postman makes the observation – or highlights Lewis Mumford’s – that with the invention of the clock, men’s brains were rewired. Calling Mumford one of our “great noticers,” he points out the the clock introduced the concept of “moment by moment.”
“The clock has the effect of disassociating time from human events and thus nourishes the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences. Moment to moment, it turns out, is not God’s conception, or nature’s. It is man conversing with himself about and through a piece of machinery he created… The clock made us into time-keepers, and then time-savers, and now time-servers… With the invention of the clock, Eternity ceased to serve as the measure and focus of human events… The inexorable ticking of the clock may have had more to do with the weakening of God’s supremacy than all the treatises produced by the philosophers of the Enlightenment.”
- A digital clock on my bookshelf in my office (it also shows me indoor and outdoor temp)
- A clock in the menu bar of my Macbook Pro
- A clock on the homescreen of my iPhone and iPad (and which also shows up on the top strip of the menu bar of both devices constantly
- A clock on the digital read-out/computer screen in my car (which currently is broken, and highlights the fact that I look at that clock a lot, because I find myself pulling out my phone to see what time it is while driving)
- Clocks on the walls of the living room and kitchen
- A digital alarm clock on the dresser of by bedroom (It used to be used as an “alarm clock” before phones did that for you, and it still has a crack in it – presumably from where it was pounded silent one morning)
- A clock on the TV guide of Comcast when you surf for shows to watch
- A clock on my Xbox home screen
It’s time to stop listing all the clocks I have.
How do we spend/waste/manage/invest “time?” It’s not a commodity. It’s a powerful deity for the arrogant. We all assume we have more time. We truly believe that tomorrow is there for the taking. That we can control time by scheduling it.
What if we are so time-enslaved that we cannot enjoy living? Marking time increases efficiency and aids in communication in our modern world. “I’ll see you at 4:00 p.m. at Starbucks” coordinates a meeting and facilitates a relationship. But what else does marking time do TO us?
Does incessant time-checking dull our souls by introducing “hurry?” And does marking time make us feel like we’ve accomplished more than we actually have? If we work at a project for a couple of hours – 120 minutes – we feel “productive.” And yet being still to pray for 1/12 that amount of time seems like an eternity. Does how we “spend our time” lend value to the activities we embrace during a specific amount of time?
My head hurts just thinking about it. Maybe we should just put it off until… tomorrow.
Tomorrow makes a crummy god
The sun goes down, and darkness descends. A mere 6-7 hours or so later, the sun rises, and tomorrow is now today. With every movement of the second hand during the darkness, there is great movement, even as we are asleep. Literally, planets soar, stars swirl, and the earth spins.
“Wait until tomorrow” is a phrase we often use – either to justify procrastination or even to ensure sanity. Let’s not freak out today in a perceived moment of crisis when chronological patience might reduce our stress and give us better perspective (and even peace) with the rising of the sun.
And yet, if we’re not careful, we’ll begin to bank on tomorrow, assuming it will be much like today.
“Lord, make me aware of my end and the number of my days so that I will know how short-lived I am.” (Psalm 39.4)
There is a subtle shift from marking time to counting on time. We assume that we will have more time to count tomorrow. And in modern society of scheduling meetings, setting goals, attending events, binge-watching episodes and deal-hunting on Black Friday, we may neglect to simply.. enjoy living. Instead we will settle for mindless hanging out, a benign passing of time.
I’m certainly not saying that a cup of coffee with a friend, or a game of Madden, or a hike or attending a football game is going to kill you (although Postman’s book title has powerful hints otherwise). Rather, I think a simple perspective adjustment is needed for most of us.
Every time you catch yourself looking at the clock, breathe this prayer:
“God, help me be aware that I am short-lived and put here to know you, to love you and to know and love others. Help me in this next hour to be humble, joyful and a blessing to the people in my life. Make this hour count.”
“Make this hour count.”
Let me know how it goes. Do you have time for that?