One of the least noticed, let alone resisted, oppressions of contemporary life is the ruthless tyranny of time, our clock- police state. Everywhere Big Brother, in the form of alarm clocks, blinking digital displays, wristwatches, computer and radio proclamations, and timesheets, is watching us and giving us our marching orders, telling us what we had better do, if we know what’s good for us, right this minute, and that means now.
heals all wounds, except for the wounds time itself inflicts. We live too fast to notice we are living, eating our fast food, and consuming our instant messages and instant breakfasts, unaware that it is we who are being devoured.
The regime, ever more dictatorial and pervasive in its coerced acceleration of life, began quietly. Pocket watches came in during the 18th century, and in Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” the Lilliputians assume that Gulliver’s watch is his god, because he consults it so often. Imagine, for a moment, the unhurried pre-modern world where no one knew what time it was most of the time, where time was measured in slow, stately rhythms, days and months and years and reigns and dynasties instead of minutes and seconds, kept by dawns and sundials and sunsets, by waxing and waning moons and slowly passing seasons, and after dark by town criers who customarily added”all is well.” It was possible to enjoy what there was to be enjoyed. We are too conscious of time passing, even in our pleasures, to be really happy.
Being happy means that you have, for the moment, forgotten all about time. The more conscious you are of time passing, the clearer it is that you’re bored or desperate or stressed. When life is really good, when conversation is really good, when movies, plays, books, walks, and sex are really good, time always vanishes, leaving a taste of eternity. When they’re bad you can hear the clock ticking. Hell is time the whole time and nothing but the time, like when you are lying in bed, unable to sleep, and you become a helpless appendage of the monotonous bedside clock that keeps you abreast of what you don’t really want to know, that it’s 4:07, 4:08, 4:09 a.m. Time is the enemy of calm. Serenity and freedom are places where time doesn’t intrude, let alone rule. But even childhood, the last pocket of resistance, has become a mad dash through playdates and appointments and scheduled practices. Our whole cul-
We talk about killing time, but we don’t take it literally enough. We need an assassin.
ture has become like the two-minute drill in football, a battle against the clock, and whatever Pyrrhic victories are won, we can hardly savor them, because the struggle itself tends to defeat the purpose. Life is too short to be spent hurrying. We talk about killing time, but we don’t take it literally enough. We need an assassin. What our culture has to do if some sense of individual freedom and leisurely civilized life is to survive is to figure out a way of overthrowing the tyrant. And we’d better get moving, we haven’t got much time.