This is cross-posted from my blog-to-be-book An Historian Looks at the West
While marking a discussion post on my History of Religion course, my mind went off on a tangent. I started to think about work (obviously not my current work). A student was discussing the busy lives of modern individuals and how this is one factor in the decline in church attendance. This is where my mind took off in an alternate direction. The Industrial Revolution (so-called), introduced a new mental time sense to western humanity. The rhythms of an agricultural economy are very different to those of an industrial economy. I don’t even mean here rural vs. urban, because in agricultural economies cities, towns and villages are service centres for agriculture. Now agricultue is a service centre for urban civilizaton.
If you work in agriculture, or are an owner who employs others, your time is dictated by seasons, daylight, weather and technology. I watched a video the other day where someone had recreated a bit of harvest technology pulled by a very large team of horses and which had about a half dozen men working on the harvester. I have today an acquaintance who does a similar job but using a modern combine harvester. This bit of machinery places him in an air-conditioned or heated cab, unlike the half dozen men who were out in the elements. The older technology required someone to guide the horses back and forth across the fields in as accurate a manner as the eye could tell. The modern combine harvester has GPS and uses a satellite to guide the operator. But what has not changed are the long hours, the working in daylight, doing jobs dictated by the season and the weather. This requires a very different mentality and mindset than an industrial economy. Industrial workers and those who are ancillary to industry (accountants, lawyers, clerks, managers) are controlled by a very specific division of time. You start and finish by the clock and you are often doing the same tasks according to a precise ordering of clock time. Weather, seasons, daylight or darkness do not affect your specific task except where they down time is integrated artificially.
Another student was discussing Egerton Ryerson who can be credited with much of the way education is ordered in my part of the world, Ontario Canada. He created tax supported schools that had the prinicple task of preparing students for this world of controlled time, and well as inculcating a necessary degree of literacy and numeracy. You arrived at school at a specific clock time, bells rang (or were hand rung) to indicate start and stop times; you sat in rows under the control of a teacher –– you learned different tasks and skills at different years and at different times of the day. Your mind was trained to the new industrial economy and trained away from the agricultural sense of time.
This is beginning to alter somewhat as education is sometimes now online. Students (and teachers) can be a bit more flexible within broader parameters. But there are still parameters much narrower than in agriculture: due dates, due times, beginnings and ends. Seasons matter even less, weather matters not at all, day and night are irrelevant but for the human need for sleep at some point.
Well, this will certainly be an entire chapter, or will infuse the whole book when I get to the point of integrating my so far random thoughts. Or should I say, that writing online and producing an ebook is harkening back in some respects to an agricultural, pre-industrial sense of time?