Unanimously Different

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I wish I could tell you everybody took it the same way. It would certainly make for a neater story, but, unfortunately, it wouldn’t be true, not in the slightest.

See, as much as we would sometimes prefer to deny it, each and every single one of us is different, and to pretend that the humankind’s reaction to all the world’s clocks having stopped out of the blue was in any way organized, or even unanimous, would be as artificial an invention as the idea of letting one’s life be ruled by clocks in itself was. 

No, in reality, it was much more complicated. At first, you saw people checking their phones (hardly ever their wrists at that point of history) more than usual, as though on the edge of their minds they suspected something was wrong, but since all of them were so removed from the reality surrounding them, their minds swirling around the hectic succession of “I have to do this, I have to do that,” numbers, calculations, complaints, and other seemingly life-defining entities, it took them longer than you might expect to notice that the time, 10:24, did not change at all. It didn’t stay the same for merely a few seconds longer, nor for a minute, not even for hours, as though it were some kind of a glitch. Ultimately, it stayed that way forever, as one is now able to witness for themselves in all the national museums of the world. Anyway, you’d think that this type of people would generally be glad to be rid of the burden of time, of rushing to that myriad of different places, desperately out of their breath, before the clock strikes, say, eleven, but no, with those people, it was the very opposite – they were the ones who panicked the most, and they were the ones who panicked most profoundly, the panic shaking their bones, their worlds, their very beings. 

Now, you’ll think I’m exaggerating (or you won’t, depends on the degree to which you rely on restrictive regularities in your life, we all do it in one way or another) – I mean, they could still sense the passage of time, right? The sun still moved, the light still changed, and so would, eventually the months and the seasons alter. But the contrary was true – they were utterly and irrevocably lost. What they thought had been confining them, containing their lives and in general tormenting them, was, in fact, a guide to their day-to-day existence, without which they recoiled to the darkness of uncertainty. They were forced to realise that they no longer ate when they were hungry, but, rather, when the clock told them to; they no longer went to sleep when they were tired, but, rather, yes, you guessed it, when the clock told them to, and the same logic, they soon realised, could be applied to next to everything they ever did, including such unmentionable tasks as going to the bathroom. Imagine the horror those people came face to face with when they had to relearn to listen to their bodies, when they felt as helpless as babies, when they could no longer stand the sight of their unchanging phone screen (or laptop, or the TV, or, for that matter, even good old mechanical clocks pointedly not striking all over their hometown), and shielded their eyes from the terror of the still 10:24. 

Although you could easily attempt to claim that this was the majority reaction to this end of an era, of a world order, even, don’t be so quick to pass judgements just yet, because there were the scientists as well, and oh, was this a field day for them. Figuring out what had happened and how to fix it became the main aim of their very existence. But though they all agreed upon it having something to do with the earth’s magnetic field (don’t ask me what exactly it was, I may try to explain, but I’ll definitely fail miserably and in the end just waste precious time of mine as well of yours, and as we have learned, time’s nothing to be taken for granted, nor is it a mere joke, this is serious, people, okay?), they simply didn’t manage to fix it. That did a number on their self-esteems, too, although some kept trying for years, for which I applaud them heartily, because at that point people have already accepted a new world order and if somebody did manage to construct a clock (or, would it have a different name already?) that would actually work, would probably only get a few hesitant smiles and shrugs, but, the dedication to a cause was surely appreciated. Still, the longer they spent on trying to fix the problem, the longer they kept losing and the harder it was to simply let it go, move on to another problem, though there was plenty to solve. 

Of course, there were those who were happy, elated even. It all made for quite a nice experiment, and to watch the humankind crumble and attempt to build itself up was an exceptionally special opportunity that was absolutely not to be wasted. 

Sociologists thrived (although to ask people for an appointment at 1pm was no longer possible, so they, too, did run into some difficulties, but they mostly liked to attempt to use that for their research as well). They surely did milk it out as you can see by the number of studies published in the years following this life-changing catastrophe (and this is not to say that they weren’t of value, that they weren’t helpful, don’t go thinking that, but in one way or another, this was a welcome opportunity for them). Therapists and psychologists (at that point already overwhelmingly required) were wholly flooded by masses of people seeking aid in navigating the New World, but as a collective, they were less happy about the increase of their work. They were more compassionate, perhaps (as they, in all honesty, ought to have been). You certainly didn’t get a sense they viewed the people coming in as mere objects to be measured (even if you’d probably find some less admirable exceptions to this trend). 

Then there were those people, mostly philosophers and students of the arts (of literature in particular, if I’m being 100% honest with you), who were interested to see what happens when objective time disappears and subjective time takes over (supposing that subjective time was not always in its own way dominant, which many of them would tell you it was, because what are people composed of if not of memories of the past and imaginings of the future, what are they if not flailing through time haphazardly and fluidly – they certainly do not live mechanically and mathematically, although these entities do keep imposing their presence on all of us). These were the people who tried to make sense of it all artistically, to put into words what most people couldn’t and so relieve them of their burdens. In fact, how many books were written about this period of transition to time after clocks you can probably see for yourself, which is what makes this little introduction of mine feel so superfluous, but a part of me thinks it needs to be done, to, you know, fix the image of the time a little bit since it’s now being written about by those who didn’t live through it at all, and you’ll excuse me if I say your ideas are getting increasingly distorted, starting with the notion that all of humankind simply lost it. Some did, yes, but not all, and I thought we were past generalisations. And this may be my last chance to make a statement of this kind, so here we go. 

Everybody was as different as they are now, and everybody was differently dependent on clocks per se. I personally didn’t notice what happened for a day or so, because well, I was busy camping and falling in love and stuff and I thought I may get rid of digital devices altogether anyway because, well, my friend told me it worked wonders for her (of course, at that point I didn’t know even analog clocks would betray me). And for some reason, all I felt when I found out was relief, that thing that most people hoped for, but it never came. But maybe relief is too big a word, maybe I was just indifferent – world without clocks or world with clocks, I didn’t see such a difference after all. Perhaps this is what’s lacking in today’s accounts of how the world changed and how people lived without those little displays measuring the speed of their lives which, in turn, measured their worth – it’s that we kept going on, although in singular ways. You wouldn’t be here if it were such a catastrophe, would you now? But however they adjusted, it was another change, transformation, anarchy on the part of technology, probably. So, please, whatever you believe, don’t go thinking the reaction of the humankind was unanimously devastated or unanimously ecstatic. No, don’t go thinking that. It all went much, much deeper. But perhaps you’ve grown tired of my preaching already. Have you? 

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