Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Time for Change: Taping Over the Digital Clocks

It was a high-level standardized test. A room full of very smart kids. "A" students. Honors students. He looked up at the clock. He looked at me. He seemed...uncomfortable.

"How much time to we have left?" he asked.

I looked at the board, where the exam's end-time was written in huge, black, block numbers. I looked at the clock...

"I, uh, can't really see the clock..." he said.

He was in the front row. The clock was large, round...clear, dark numbers on a white face. I looked him. He looked at me. He looked away...ashamed.

We both knew the truth.

He couldn't read an analog clock.

"You have twenty-three minutes," I said.

"Thanks," he said.

I arched my brow and went back to pacing the room like a nineteenth century, New York City beat cop, sans the club-thingy they used to carry.

Crazy, huh? Here is a top-notch student who can't tell time on an analogue clock. But this is really common. Most kids, now, rely on digital clocks.

If I tell my twelve-year-old son it is "twenty after four" he says, "You mean, like, 4:20?" (He is trying to be sure I don't mean 3:40. "Of" and "after" are fuzzy to him.

Well, things are going to change in the Matarazzo household.

It is not because I think it is "an abomination" that kids can't tell time on an analogue clock, but because I think the lack of this ability makes a huge difference in their ability to conceptualize time.

They don't, for instance, teach cursive writing in school anymore, really. It is kind of a shame, but...what's the big deal? Writing is writing and most of us write on the computer these days, anyway...

...but, with telling time on the analogue clock, one learns a relative shape to the passage of time... One can see when that minute hand is five or ten or thirteen minutes from the twelve. On has a graphic, geometric grasp of the passage of time and its relevance to the situation at hand. If I need to leave the house at seven and that minute hand passes the eleven on the clock, I know it is time for hyper drive, whatever I am doing. "6:56" is just 6:56 if you don't see the implied geometry of the clock. "6:56" doesn't give you a picture of the black gate closing on your window of opportunity. The minute hand does. And the second hand, if you are a real live-by-the-seat-of-your-pants chap (or chapette) squeezes the last drops juice out of the orange of your punctuality. (Yeah, I AM leaving that sentence.)

Could a lack of understanding of the analogue clock be the reason for the curmudgeonly yet accurate complaint that "kids today" don't seem to have a sense of urgency or of an awareness of when to start MOVING? I think it might be.

When I get home, the electrical tape is coming out and every digital clock in the house is getting blacked out. Not my kids. NOT MY KIDS, damn it all.


  1. Fran Leibowitz wrote something about this, but for laughs.

    1. Sometimes, in humor, there is sad truth. [hits gong]

  2. I completely agree and am relieved to find that some one else feels the same. Digital clocks tell me what time it is, but analog clocks SHOW me what time it is, giving me a sense of time I actually have in an hour. Is it not interesting that a circle with two moving lines has the kind of power that a square with many digital lines does not?
    I also am wondering, if I email you Chris, will you receive it? Thank you
    Keep up the intriguing works!

    1. Very true -- I like the "show don't tell" mantra applied to this. Thanks for the kind words!

      Yes -- if you use the contact email above, I should get it. It's not a link, but you can copy and paste into your email.

  3. You know I agree with you about the clocks.

    But I do think we should mourn the loss of schools teaching cursive writing. How else can one develop a signature, which has been so important throughout history?

    Although, I suppose that with technology like DocuSign, a signature may no longer be necessary.