Timekeeping protocols, and the devices they are intertwined with, have shaped consciousness and been a primary site of control and power throughout history. Ancient Romans resisted sundials that regimented their days; British imperialists used loud clock towers to assert dominance in colonized lands. Attitudes toward timekeeping acquired moral dimensions, as temperance and self-discipline became linked to obeying clocks. The materiality of timekeeping devices also influenced how humans experienced time, from rhythmic ticking to continuous burning incense. Over centuries, Western clock time diverged from natural cycles, prioritizing mathematical regularity over ecological responsiveness. Today’s pervasive minute-by-minute timekeeping supports industrial civilization but strains against human biology, enabling complex collective endeavors while also exerting control over individual lives, and ironically giving up control over nature. I hypothesize that “good” protocols constrain in order to liberate, but assessing a protocol’s net benefit is complex, subjective and ever-shifting. Timekeeping protocols may need to evolve and become more diverse, to enable rather than overly control modern lives, but the deep entanglement of timekeeping with consciousness and power throughout history suggests any changes will reshape society in ways hard to foresee.

Sharing Protocol