Good Friday

Luke Kelly and the Dubliners – Hand Me Down My Bible.

Come on people let your life begin
Come on people let the sun shine in
Come on people let your life begin
Let it in, let it in

On Day-Light Saving Time

As the clocks go-forward this weekend, I was thinking about the role of the time-piece in our lives.

In a lecture to IBM Engineers in 1969 the philosopher Alan Watts was discussing the difference in thought between the Judeo-Christian West and the Ancient Chinese. One of these differences was the basic nature of man. The Judeo-Christian view, Watts claimed, is that man is essentially sinful and evil, whilst the ancient Chinese saw man as essentially good. Thus, if we see ourselves as being essentially selfish and untrustworthy we develop systems of authority and control to impose on ourselves.

[…] Therefore we need law and order. We need a control system to put us in order. We thereby project these control systems into the Church or into the police or into somebody, who are really ourselves disguised.

You see it’s like day-light saving time.

Everybody could simply get up an hour earlier, but instead of doing that we alter the clock, because a clock has a kind of authority and I would say “the Clock says its time for you to get up”. The Amer-Indians laugh at the pale-faces because they say “Paleface, he doesn’t know he’s hungry until he looks at his watch”

And so in this way we become clock-dominated, and the abstract system takes over from the physical, organic situation.

I remember Tommy Tiernan expressing a similar sentiment in a show once, that we have become slaves to our clocks, whereas in our agricultural past there was simply daylight and things to be done. Now, we have imposed this system of timekeeping on ourselves, which whilst obviously helpful in the day to day running of things, exposes its own arbitrariness via its ability to be manipulated.

British Museum
Photo owned by LaurenKates (cc)

The Clock has allowed us to commoditize even the Sun itself. Therein, the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez can order that all the clocks are turned back 30 minutes, so, ever the Socialist, they can allow “a more fair distribution of the sunrise”. Venezuela plans more such measures, according to the Science and Technology Minister, to “make more effective use of time”.

Thus, it is as Watts had said, instead of simply changing our habits to meet with the reality of the situation, we bow to the authority of the Clock and change it instead. It’s kind of odd when you think about it.

More on distraction-free tools

In reaction to my post on distraction-free text editors, a friend pointed me towards Readability, a service I’ve been using for a while now. In a nutshell, Readability is a tool that lets you isolate the actual content of a webpage and present it in a more accessible and easy to read manner (without all the clutter that you have to contend with on most sites). Here’s the official video explaining how it works:

Readability – Installation Video for Firefox, Safari & Chrome from Arc90 on Vimeo.

I first discovered Readability when I was looking for a simple way to change the line-height of text on webpages, to make it a bit more readable. For a medium that is still predominately text-based there is a whole load of bad typography online. Readability, in addition to helping you tune out the noise surrounding the feature content, goes someway to helping you with these problems. However, as Catbird points out , it is a bit nuts that we even need applications like this.

Speaking of which, it also occurred to me today just how bad Wikipedia is. For a hugely popular site, which is all about text, it’s presentation leaves a bit to be desired. It’s main problem is that it uses a 100% wide fluid page-layout, thus making lines of text really long, something which is one of the leading causes for poor legibility/readability.

Alan Watts on Universities

Mr. Watts on the age old battle between the faculty and administration.

[…] Everybody is busy keeping records of everything. It’s much more important to record what happens, then what happens. This is already eating us up. It’s much more important you have your books right, then that you conduct your business in a good way.

In Universities it’s much more important that the registrar’s records be in order then that the library be well stocked. After all do you know that your grades are all locked up in safes and they’re protected from thievery and pilfering? And they’re the most valuable property that the University has? The library can go hang.

Then further more the main function of the University is, a sensible person would imagine, to teach students and to do research. So the faculty should be the most important thing in the University. On the contrary, the administration is the most important thing. The people who keep the records, who make the game rules up. And so the faculty are always being obstructed by the administration and being forced to attend irrelevant meetings and to do everything but scholarship.

From the lecture “Man in Nature”