Saving Time Book Summary - Saving Time Book explained in key points
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Saving Time summary

Jenny Odell

Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock

4.1 (284 ratings)
17 mins
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    Saving Time
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    How was the concept of keeping time created?

    It’s no small irony that clocks are the modern symbol of time, because – for most of history – there was no need to keep time by them. While ancient civilizations did have devices for sensing the time of day, such as sundials and clepsydras, they had no reason to separate it into numerical parts.

    In fact, the process of breaking down time into linear units didn’t begin until the sixth century, when the development of Christian canonical hours specified the eight moments of the day that monks should pray.

    Five centuries later, Cistercian monks intensified this practice by using bell towers throughout their monasteries. This new technology would soon catch on and be developed into public and private clocks, spreading rapidly as European towns became centers of power and commerce.

    While they were mainly still used for coordination, these mechanical turret clocks helped to conduct trade and signaled the end of a day’s worth of labor. Unlike the bell towers in monasteries, the new clocks were able to mark hours as equal and countable.

    The history of time is also deeply entangled with colonialism and struggles for power. It’s no coincidence that marine chronometers were invented in eighteenth-century Britain, just as the colonial power was rising to international dominance.

    Beginning in the 1850s, “master clocks” in Greenwich, England, began to send Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) to “slave clocks” throughout the rest of the country via electrical pulses, which allowed all trains to run on the same schedule.

    Meanwhile, railway systems in the US and Canada initially had no standardized time zones, which made coordinating them nearly impossible. While helping to design the Canadian railway network, engineer Sandford Fleming developed the idea of a “Cosmic Day.” 

    According to his strategy, everyone on the planet would use one of 24 time zones – reflecting the 24-hour clock, or what we now refer to as “military time.” In 1884, at the International Meridian Conference, these 24 time zones were officially recognized with Greenwich as the prime meridian: the point from which time would be measured throughout the world.

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    What is Saving Time about?

    Saving Time (2023) takes a deep dive into the complicated concepts surrounding time and the multitude of ways it can be experienced. Combining historical research, philosophical ideas, and social commentary, it offers new approaches to perceiving time that can help us learn to truly live in the present while looking toward a more hopeful future.

    Who should read Saving Time?

    • Anyone curious about the concept of time
    • People suffering from a lack of time or burnout
    • Fans of history, science, and philosophy

    About the Author

    Jenny Odell is an author, artist, and educator. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, New York magazine, the Paris Review, McSweeney’s, and Sierra. Odell’s previous book, How to Do Nothing, is a New York Times best seller.

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