A Brief History of Timekeeping

The history of timekeeping is a history of control—a duty to be “on time.” Could a new kind of clock change our relationship with timekeeping, forcing us to think not of hours and obligations but of eons and possibilities?

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About the Show

Journey into the past and you’ll discover the secret history of the future. From the world’s first cyberattack in 1834, to 19th-century virtual reality, the Economist’s Tom Standage and Slate’s Seth Stevenson examine the historical precedents that can transform our understanding of modern technology, predicting how it might evolve and highlighting pitfalls to avoid. Discovering how people reacted to past innovations can also teach us about ourselves.

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The first mechanical clocks were made to summon monks to prayer. Ever since, timekeeping technology has often been about control and obligation. But beneath a mountain in Texas, a new kind of clock is being built that’s meant to alter the way we think about time. Can it force us to connect our distant past with our distant future, tick by tick?

Podcast production by Bart Warshaw and Kate Holland.