Friday, March 02, 2007

Time & Culture

Technology changes culture. This is evident in many ways, but one comes to mind today; that being the advent of digital clocks.

First, many people no longer use terms like “a quarter till four”, or “half past”. Back when all clocks were analog, I don’t recall anyone saying something like “It’s seven fifty-five”. It was “Five minutes ‘til eight”. Once you got past the half-hour, you spoke in terms of time remaining until the next hour.

The second thing is our digital precision. People typically rounded off to the nearest 5 minutes or so. Now, it’s “1:52 PM”, where before, it would have been about “ten ‘til two”. We have all become more like Star Trek’s Mister Spock, since digital timekeeping has become commonplace.

The first digital clocks I remember coming into common usage were those alarm clock-radios that had digits on a Rolodex-like device that flipped down the next digit as each minute passed. Some of these still had a little analog wheel to scroll by seconds, but many were just the flip digits for hours and minutes. I think these came along in the early 1970s.

About that same time, or shortly thereafter, I also recall those LED (Light-Emitting Diode) watches that glowed bright red. The first one I saw was in the movies. I don’t know which movie it was, but it was a James Bond film, and one of Bond’s high-tech gadgets of the day was one of those LED watches. The problem with them was the fact that you had to push a button on the watch to see the time. The button caused a current to go through the LED, illuminating the display. If your other hand was busy, you couldn’t see what time it was. Coolness is not always easy! In this case, just like eating a Whopper, it took two hands to see what time it was. Now, the more practical LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) technology has superseded LEDs for watches, although analog displays have made a resurgence in this market as well.

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