Friday, December 11, 2015

Money Wisdom #390

"As a piece of technology, the clock is a machine that produces uniform seconds, minutes, and hours on an assembly-line pattern. Processed in this way, time is separated from the rhythms of human experience. The mechanical clock, in short, helps to create the image of a numerically quantified and mechanically powered universe. It was in the world of the medieval monasteries, with their need for a rule and for synchronized order to guide communal life, that the clock got started on its modern developments. Time measured not by the uniqueness of private experience but by abstract uniform units gradually pervades all sense life, much as does the technology of writing and printing. Not only work but also eating and sleeping, came to accommodate themselves to the clock rather than to organic needs. As the pattern of arbitrary and uniform measurement of time extended itself across society, even clothing began to undergo annual alteration in a way convenient for industry. At that point, of course, mechanical measurement of time as a principle of applied knowledge joined forces with printing and assembly line as means of uniform fragmentation of processes.
     The most integral and involving time sense imaginable is that expressed in the Chinese and Japanese cultures. Until the coming of the missionaries in the seventeenth century, and the introduction of mechanical clocks, the Chinese and Japanese had for thousands of years measured time by gradations of incense. Not only the hours and days, but the seasons and the zodiacal signs were simultaneously indicated by a succession of carefully ordered scents."

Marshall McLuhan Understanding Media (1964) p.158


Note: I think it's possible that McLuhan over-emphasizes the measurement of time by smell. I like the idea, but if you read Silvo Bedini's The Scent of Time - a study of the use of fire and incense for time measurement in Oriental countries (link) which was published in 1963 by the journal of the American Philosophical Society, the year before McLuhan's book was published, telling the time by smell seems to be an effect of the technology of measurement, rather than the media of time-telling itself. Interestingly though, it's reported that up until 1924 some Geisha houses measured the 'entertainment time' provided by the use of a burning incense stick (see p.28). 

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