[FOUNTAIN]The hidden power in a clock’s hands

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[FOUNTAIN]The hidden power in a clock’s hands

Since the Industrial Revolution, precise timekeeping has been central to work, and to life. As workers began to be paid by the hour, it became important to measure time accurately.
Of course, clocks then were not very precise, so time measurement tended to vary. Unethical employers would cheat their workers by setting their clocks to move slowly. Factories powered by water adjusted their clocks to the flow of the river; the faster it flowed, the faster the clocks moved. But there was some sense to that. When the flow was fastest, productivity increased, and the faster clock had the effect of raising wages. Wages were thereby connected to output.
Such elastic time measurement disappeared in the 19th century, when employees began coming and going at work at fixed times. Employers calculated workers’ wages by recording the times at which they arrived and left. Bosses were no longer able to manipulate working hours, but employees were completely tied to the workplace. From this perspective, we can say that thc clock was on the employer’s side in that instance.
Lewis Mumford, an American sociologist who studied the role of the clock in industrialized societies, defined it not as a mere instrument for measuring time, but as “a device that induces human beings to act.” Mr. Mumford further argues that the symbol of the Industrial Revolution should be the clock, not the steam engine. That is a pertinent thought for the time-pressed people of today.
In Yeouido, the financial district in Seoul, a clock without hands was recently set up in front of a securities firm. With neither an hour hand nor a minute hand, it can hardly be called a clock; it’s more like a board with numbers on it. It was set up to convey the message that investors shouldn’t concentrate on short-term flcutuations in the market, but should look to the long term. In a way, this clock fits Mr. Mumford’s definition perfectly, since it is designed to change investors’ attitudes. The point is to refrain from becoming depressed or exhilarated over small things, and keep the bigger picture in mind. But does that lesson apply only to the stock market?


by Nam Yoon-ho

The writer is the leader of the family news team of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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