How to Look at A Clock

© Copyright 2017 Joselle Mendoza, Ryerson University.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day.
~ William Shakespeare

The concept of time is merely socially constructed. We cannot see it nor touch it though our lives are governed by it. Time has no meaning until we give it meaning ourselves. Humans have developed a series of these meanings to make sense of how we spend our days. In just about every room, a clock exists in one way or another. They do not all look the same as they come in all sorts of forms, styles and colours. However, they all serve the same purpose regardless of what they look like.

Quick History

Figure 2 – By Liz West (Sundial) Photo. [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. Mar 29 2007,
Clocks are simply timekeeping devices. Nowadays, knowing the time is taken for granted while our ancestors did not have it as easy. It is best to start with how far along timekeeping has come. Prior to the electric clocks that are commonly used today, there were various ways people sought to tell time. The first known clock was the sundial. No one knows exactly when it was developed, but it was definitely used in Ancient Egypt, Greek and Roman civilization, and not to mention its reference in the Old Testament (Bruton 97). Sundials existed as the earliest method of telling time using a narrow rod called a gnomon and shadows brought by the sun’s motion. Electrical clocks were introduced around 1940, but they were not widely manufactured until the 1930s.

Reading Clocks

Similar to learning how to ride a bike, telling the time is a skill that is hard to forget once taught. On the clock, there are numbers 1 to 12, ticks and three arrows, known as hands. The thin hand that moves the fastest is called the seconds hands. Every time it moves represents a second going by. The thicker but longer hand is the minute hand which moves once every 60 times the seconds hand moves. When it moves one little tick, a minute passes. Finally, the thick and shorter hand is the hours hand. It moves every 60 minutes to a big tick meaning an hour has elapsed. Every part influences another and each tells something different separately yet collectively all aspects of time itself.

Figure 1 – By Joselle Mendoza (Greener Times) Photo. Feb 4 2017. (, via Flickr.

Figure 1.1 depicts a clock. The design of its frame does not alter the mechanics of how it tells time. The hours hand is barely passed the six indicating it is six o’clock and the minutes hand shows on seventh tick. Together, 6:07 o’clock. The conventional 12-hour clock was designed in a way that the 24 hours in a day is divided into two periods, before midday and after midday. In Latin, “before midday” is ante meridiem and after midday being post meridiem which explains the reason for using AM and PM, respectively (Ogle). Somewhere in the world, it is time for someone to wake up and in another, it is someone’s bedtime.

Now, imagine a world without clocks. The thought is far-fetched to say the least, however the fact of the matter is how significant time and being able to determine it is. Utter chaos would take place in its absence. There is always something to be done thus “the future and the speeding up of time continue to be unavoidable everyday demands” (Bôas). Time is the same to the poor and rich as it is to the young and old. Once it is gone, it is gone indefinitely. How we use it essentially makes all difference.


Works Cited

  • Bôas, Glaucia V. “Change, Time and Sociology.” Sociologia & Antropologia, vol. 6, no. 1, 2016., pp. 111-128doi:10.1590/2238-38752016v615.
  • Bruton, Eric. The History of Clocks and Watches, Little, Brown, 1999.
  • West, Liz. “Sundial.” Flickr, 29 Mar. 2007,
  • Mendoza, Joselle Marie. “Greener Times.” 2017. JPEG file.
  • Ogle, Vanessa. “Alexis McCrossen. Marking Modern Times: A History of Clocks, Watches, and Other Timekeepers in American Life.” The American Historical Review, vol. 119, no. 3, 2014., pp. 885-886doi:10.1093/ahr/119.3.885.

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.