Time

Sundial

This is the first blog post in the series that will describe the design process of the Stripe clock. In this post I dive into the concepts of clock time and event time.

Absolute time

The historical invention of the timepiece has given us the ability to determine an absolute time. First we had sundials, incense clocks and precisely timed candles. Then came mechanical clocks and finally digital clocks. These devices allow us to precisely know at what point in time we currently are. In his (highly recommended) book ‘In the bubble’, John Thackara calls this ‘clock time’. It is the time that tells us to get up in the morning, or go to lunch precisely at noon.

Before the timepiece, however, we lived our lives strictly following ‘event time’. Getting up when the sun started to shine, eating when we were hungry, or when we happened to grab hold of some food.

Clock time and our agenda

We don’t work in event time anymore. At least, that is what seems to be the case. In our modern networked lives we have structured our events by aligning them to clock time. We have to be at work at a certain time because it is very convenient if everyone is present at the same moment. Still, relative time is much more important to us human beings than absolute time. The fact that it is a quarter to four in the afternoon means nothing unless you know you have to give an important presentation at four o’ clock. We use calendars and clocks to align our events with those of others.

Event time in the era of realtime

The internet has marked our transition from the era of acceleration to the era of realtime. In the era of acceleration the flow of information kept going faster and faster. Now, the hyperconnectivity that has arisen from the internet allows information to cross the globe instantaneously. For acceleration you need absolute time. For realtime, you need connectivity. This connectivity has given us the possibility to easily connect with people and events in different time zones.

Many services that rely heavily on realtime have stopped reporting clock time for things that happened recently. To see what I mean, just have a quick glance at your Twitter stream or Facebook timeline: instead of stating the exact date and time an update was posted, they report the relative time with terms like ‘a minute ago’ or ‘two weeks ago’. In a sense, realtime is giving us back the need for relative time.

Meet Stripe

It might have become clear that the analog and digital clocks of today are made for the absolute time of the acceleration era. So how do you design a clock that fits in the era of realtime? To be honest, I don’t know. The best way to find out is to try, which is exactly what I am going to do. I am working on Stripe: an internet-enabled linear clock. It is different from other clocks in that it doesn’t tell the time as it is defined by the clock – it tells your time. It synchronizes with your online calendar to show your events and it shows you how far away (in time) they are. It will be an open source design: I will fully document the design process and place it on this blog. In the upcoming weeks I will explain more about the design of Stripe.

(header image: Sundial by ghewgill)

On this blog, I am documenting the design of an internet-enabled linear LED clock: Stripe. Want to know more? Have a look at all posts about Stripe, subscribe to the RSS feed or follow me on Twitter

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