Tag Archives: time

What Time It Is

(Soundtrack, should you wish to click it: “Clocks” by Coldplay.)

“What time is it?” It is a question which suggests it has only one answer.

Once upon a time, if someone asked you what time it was, the question did have only one answer. You checked the position of the sun or looked at the clock. It was easy to check and easy to agree upon, because there was after all, only one Sun in the sky, and this being about 500 years ago, likely only one clock in town. There was only one answer. But the proliferation of technologies changed that.

It all had to do with speed. First was the reduction in price of clocks through mass production, which caused them to quickly proliferate everywhere. Then came railroads and telegraph offices which increased the speed of travel and communication. Before then, your town, your village was in its own little world. It was noon when the Sun and the hands of the clock were at their highest point. After that, every place became increasingly and more speedily accessible to every other.

Aware of all the clocks in our world, we know there are any number of answers to the question.

“A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.” – Lee Segall

But there is a way to cut through all the readings of all the clocks in the world. Pick one clock and stick to it. The most accurate clocks are the atomic clocks at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. This past August, they unveiled two still-experimental clocks that run using the radioactive element ytterbium, which are more accurate than the current atomic clocks that they use.

And it is not hard to find out this time. You don’t even need to go to the Web. Just open your mobile phone. You have never set the time on the clock in your phone. The time comes from the atomic clocks and is used by all mobile phone providers. So as it was 500 years ago, it is now. Once again, there is only one answer.