Invisible Tools

Clock-a-Doodle-Doo

The onomatopoeia is different in every language, from cocoroco to kikiriku to cockadoodledoo; people have often been woken up by the common element of sound. Today, in the urban western world, the sound of a rooster is often replaced with the sound of a popular song or just the default tone that our phone has to offer. Alarm Clocks are symbolic of defiance of circadian rhythms and the ancient/traditional working day. They use a numerical system that is justified with the pursuit of “regularity” and “consistency”, although the only consistent element is the number that it displays. In each of our culture bubbles, we are not able to be aware of our planet’s position in space, or progress around the sun, but we are able to notice the position of the sun in the sky, or our own body’s level of exhaustion. Instead of following the latter methods, we set alarms to keep ourselves in sync with “everyone else”. Alarm Clocks defy our personal frame of reference in favor of a more global way of communication about the concept of time.

Each morning, our bodies are prepared to wake up when they are ready. Most people, instead of allowing themselves to be woken up by their circadian rhythm, set an alarm to wake them up earlier. For what reason, other than vanity, ambition, and habit? “It’s what we do, it’s how things work”. Forcing ourselves out of sleep, only to spend that extra time applying makeup, doing our hair, planning what we wear, and otherwise preparing our aesthetic to be as appealing as possible. This is what alarm clocks have given to the human race. It is important to remember that they have also allowed nap-takers and sleep-inners to flourish. But at what cost?

Societies used to function on a sunrise-to-sunset system of time. Some, certainly, still do. By using a device that will wake you up even when it is still dark, the need for sunrise is abolished. On the other hand, alarms also serve to allow people to sleep while it is light outside, and wake them up as soon as our global clock lines up with whatever commitments they have that day. In both circumstances, humanity no longer relies on the sun to dictate our days.

Alarm clocks are not just for mornings. I use my alarm to remind me when to change the laundry, so no laundry thieves steal it. I had to use a laundromat this year, it was unpleasant at best – I digress. Does reliance on alarms of this sort lead to a regression in our own ability to manage time ourselves? Without becoming too philosophical, I will define time as both our personal relationship with ourselves and each other in terms of beats and our relationship with the universe in terms of distance from and around the sun, on our elliptical orbit. I am more interested in the inter/intrapersonal relationship. It is almost musical, hence the term circadian rhythms, how we measure time. We count seconds, beats, and manage our tasks based on how they fit into the musical of our daily lives. Alarms literally help us to keep time, like a metronome that is programmed only to go off before the fries burn in the oven.

I knew a man who could tell what time it was without looking at a clock. It was almost scary, how synchronized his body clock was with the clocks that we keep on our walls or wear on our wrists. Or that we keep in our pockets – I have seen more people wearing a wristwatch check the time on their phone instead than I care to have counted – I digress, again. It really is difficult to stay focused when I’m focusing on the riveting topic of clocks. On topic: I have to wonder if his ability came from practice, or conditioning, or any similar sort of rehearsal. I’ve managed to do the same trick a few times myself, and I’ve begun to notice when other people do it as well. Do you?

This is the most interesting part of alarm clocks to me: we don’t need them at all. If we sleep in, our body needed to sleep in. If we forget something, it was because we were not capable of remembering it. All this means is that we would need to improve our memory and time-management skills. Heavy reliance on a clock does not allow for these skills to develop. Instead, the skill is passed off onto a tool that we have created. Would a true humanist rather see a tool replace the need for certain stresses on us, or see a species that does not need this tool because we have advanced beyond the need to stress in this manner at all? I don’t have an answer, but I do have an opinion. The way the world works now requires alarm clocks. I would prefer not having them, but the paradigm shift that would have to occur across the world isn’t worth only abolishing one unnecessary tool. For the time being – pun not intended, but it works – alarms clocks are here to stay.

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