You never know what you’re going to learn by reading a book. Such was the case while reading chapter three in The Shallows by Nicholas Carr.
Chapter Three, “Tools of the Mind,” shares the history and impact of maps, clocks, and language on intellectual development. Carr includes these three in the same technology category, the intellectual technologies. He wrote that maps expanded man’s spatial technology. What maps did for space, clocks did for time.
To describe life before the creation of clocks, Carr quotes French medievalist Jacques Le Goff who said life was “dominated by agrarian rhythms, free of haste, careless of exactitude, unconcerned by productivity.” Hard to imagine such a life. Thinking about it presents a mixture of envy and gratitude.
Carr then shared this bit of history relaying how and why clocks came to be:
Life began to change in the latter half of the Middle Ages. The first people to demand a more precise measurement of time were Christian monks, whose lives revolved around a rigorous schedule of prayer. In the sixth century, Saint Benedict had ordered his followers to hold seven prayer services at specified times during the day. Six hundred years later, the Cistercians gave new emphasis to punctuality, dividing the day into a regimented sequence of activities and viewing any tardiness or other waste of time to be an affront to God. Spurred by the need for temporal exactitude, monks took the lead in pushing forward the technologies of timekeeping. It was in the monastery that the first mechanical clocks were assembled, their movements governed by the swinging of weights, and it was the bells in the church tower that first sounded the hours by which people would come to parcel out their lives.
Like Carr, I don’t share this to make a slam, but to make an observation. Balance is a tricky thing. Some would even say it’s an impossible thing. But like holiness, it’s worth pursuing.
When it comes to time, we can get imbalanced by rigidity and carelessness. We can get lost in the black and white as well as the disregard for parceling and regimentation.
As those seeking to walk in the Spirit, may we follow his lead in the moments when precision is best and when fluidity is lifegiving.