We discipline our lives by the time on the clock. Our working lives and wages are determined by it, and often our “free time” is rigidly managed by it too. Broadly speaking, even our bodily functions are regulated by the clock: We usually eat our meals at appropriate clock times as opposed to whenever we are hungry, go to sleep at appropriate clock times as opposed to whenever we are tired and attribute more significance to the arresting tones of a clock alarm than the apparent rising of the sun at the center of our solar system. The fact that there is a strange shame in eating lunch before noon is a testament to the ways in which we have internalized the logic of the clock. We are “time binding” animals, as the American economist and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin put it in his 1987 book, “Time Wars.” “All of our perceptions of self and world are mediated by the way we imagine, explain, use and implement time.”

By Joe Zadeh
Published by The Berggruen Institute

The first I became saddled by time was in prep school when everything was “regimented” as we preferred to say. I usually tried to beat the others in my dormitory to the showers at 7:00 am when the hallway alarm rang. Not because I was shy or because there wasn’t enough room.  I just liked getting a jump on things. Breakfast was at eight o’clock I believe. Then chapel around 9:45 am followed by classes, lunch around noon, classes again, tuck shop stop-over in the afternoon, sports or cadets around 3:30 pm, dinner around six o’clock, study until nine-thirty, milk and cookies in the common room then bed. It was not uncommon for me to get up at 3:00 am and study Latin before starting all over. In retrospect I can see the obsessions kept us out of trouble and accomplished a great deal.

It wasn’t however until personal computers happened sometime around the late 1970s or the early 1980s after I had completed undergraduate and post-graduate studies that I became hooked with the precision of time. It is incorrect to assume that time-keeping or an awareness of time-elapsed was critical to a law practice.  Many of my colleagues calculated their billings strictly by the nature of the service rendered – buying or selling a house, wills, powers of attorney, settling an estate, partnership agreement, co-ownership agreement, co-habitation agreement, divorce, separation agreement, inter vivos trust agreement and so on. That at least was the case among the rural practitioners.

The city lawyers were by contrast devoted to billable hours. Although I had from the start of my practice kept records (which I shared with my clients) of what and when I had done something and how long it took, the personal computers (along with the customization of user-friendly tallying facilities) changed everything.  No longer was it a pain to record the time spent. Nor did I have to dictate it; I could do it myself. The record of time was only that.  It did not mandate any price or estimate I may have quoted. But it satisfied my ability to prove what had been accomplished; and, in some cases it afforded an historical record which was of critical importance regarding for example conversations with related parties such as accountants.

Since retirement I have no interest in the preservation of time or accommodation of it. Only as recently as this morning I blandly asked, “Is today Thursday?” And if I wish for some ulterior reason to remark upon a particular date I have to check my calendar (which is on my computer). Certainly I abide by appointments but that is a convenience for others not me. By contrast I preserve what I suppose can only be called a “habit” for meals and sleeping. But animals do the same and I hardly think a dog can be accused of “watching the clock”.

Artistically time pieces have always amused me whether they be clock towers, church bells, grandfather clocks, mantle clocks, carriage clocks, wall clocks, ship’s bells or wrist watches.  I currently own three wrist watches none of which I have worn since buying an Apple Watch. I also have a pocket watch which I never use.  I have given away watches which I found uncomfortable to wear or which I want to “keep in the family“. Apart from the Apple Watch they are all ornaments.  Once they included Rolex, Breitling, Cartier, Tiffany, Birks, Bulova, TAG Heuer, Sligh, Howard Miller, Seth Thomas, Timex and Citizen. The Apple Watch (basic black and basic everything else) is strictly utilitarian, it records health records, qualifies as a cooking timer, shows the temperature, etc. It even tells the time! And just this afternoon I received an email from Hublot so the passion lingers!

A scion of the Italian Binda Group dynasty, best known for making Breil watches, Carlo Crocco left the company in 1976 to strike out on his own and create a new watch company. Moving to Switzerland he formed MDM Geneve and set about designing a watch that he named the Hublot after the French word for “porthole”. The watch that he created featured the first natural rubber strap in the history of watchmaking. It took three years of research to create the strap. Despite failing to attract a single potential customer on the first day of its debut at the 1980 Basel Watch Fair, the watch quickly proved to be a commercial success with sales in excess of $2m in its first year.

The common topic of conversation among most of my family, friends and acquaintances is that time – however it is calculated – is running out. Precision is unimportant. The ornamentation of time has lapsed.