What Clocks Do to Us: Only Time Will Tell


Martinskirchen: strange clock at the church tower. flickr photo by fchmksfkcb shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

My friend, Charlene, wrote an interesting piece yesterday about some “unintended consequences” of our digital lives. Her story has to do with helping young students in the first days of school, and her observation that some students struggle with alphabetization perhaps because they never spent time exploring the dictionary, and its sequential patterns.

She writes:

This disconcerting realization caused me to consider the ramifications of a generation(s) of students who haven’t learned and practiced alphabetization skills. The literature is rife with studies where memory system capacities, especially working memory, are measured and analyzed using span tasks which appraise the subjects’ ability to recall and sequence information.

Read Charlene’s piece here.

Her post connects to another activity a handful of us did last week, in which we were annotating an article from The Guardian about how digital reading was impacting the comprehension skills of young readers, and how brain scientists are studying the impact of screens on how we interpret text.

Check out the annotation activity for Skim Reading is the New Normal by Maryanne Wolf

And I was reminded about something else, too, along Charlene’s observational lines, in my first days with my new sixth graders when some students had to sign out to use the bathroom. Many stare at the huge analog clock on the wall, sometimes for extended moments (I guess the bathroom break is never all that critical), trying to figure out the time. Some even turn and ask me for help. Others give up, and either scan the projector screen for the digital time or ask someone else.

This is not a new observation. I’ve noticed it for years now. And wondered about it. We’ve talked about it as teachers, too. You should see students when I give them some “clock” math work to do, using the hands and face of clocks to calculate basic math skills. It’s like a foreign object.


Stereo clock flickr photo by cbcastro shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

It occurs to me that something might be lost with this shift of how we tell time. It’s true that a digital clock is quick and accurate. But being able to see the movement of the seconds hand, and then the movement of the minutes and hour hands … these things give you a “sense” of time’s movement in a given day. You “see” the rhythm of your experiences.

I’m not suggesting all clocks in our lives need be digital. But like Charlene, who wonders about what gets lost when we don’t use the physical dictionary, I sometimes wonder what gets lost when we don’t teach basic analog clock skills. What are the unintended consequences?

Ever step forward seems to leave something behind — for good and for ill.

Peace (in the new school year),
Kevin

Share this post:
4 Comments
  1. This is so fascinating. I see time as going around and around (eternal recurrence) as well as going forward, because of non-digital clocks. Do those who are used to digital clocks have a different perception of time to me?

    Wow.

Leave a Reply to inspirepassion Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *