Geert Lovink on Tue, 15 Dec 1998 17:13:36 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> net.times, not swatch time

net.times, not swatch time
by geert lovink

"Internet Time represents a completely new global concept of time: No Time
Zones. No Geographical Borders. Swatch has divided the virtual and real
day into 1000 "beats". One Swatch beat is the equivalent of 1 minute 26.4
seconds. That means that 12 noon in the old time system is the equivalent
of @500 Swatch beats."

"Every watch is equipped with a new universal time created by Swatch. It
is the same all over the world. The current time 24h divided into 1000
units (beats). 000 Internet time is midnight in Biel, the home of Swatch
(during Swiss winter time). This is equivalent to UTC+1 (Universal Time
Coordinated, former GMT, Greenwich Mean Time)."


net time, not swatch time
by geert lovink

Swatch's unilateral declaration of Internet Time, at first glance, fits
into the corporate takeover of the Net. With software from Microsoft,
browser and access facilities from AOL, and bandwidth from MCI/Worldcom,
your time standard from now on belongs to yet another, Swiss,
multinational. So far, no one has yet protested against this old-fashioned
top-down model in which corporate machine time is forced onto the
computer-related work force. installed the clock on its home page, and so did some
others. We could dismiss Swatch Time as a marketing ploy, aiming to sell
even more of its flashy lifestyle watches. Finally, Swatch is now tapping
into the market of cyber consumer electronics. There is obviously the
danger of a new monopoly. Each time we investigate 'net time', electronic
micro payments will start flowing towards the Biel headquarters. Watches,
which are now still a gadget, are quickly dematerializing into software. 
The Y2K panic is showing that 'computer time' (and its standards) has long
been ignored, and this neglected aspect is now taking its revenge. 

The suggestion of generous Swatch managers, now having joined the gift
economy, should be regarded with suspicion. The Swatch name and logo,
attached to the Internet Time, is a clear indication of what this
operation is all about. If only ISOC, the Internet Society, would be a bit
more awake, decisive... They could easily come up with a statement that no
single company, or any other unit, can simply claim to set such an
important standard as Internet Time. And if only the Electronic Frontier
Foundation would finally get rid of its hidden, neo-liberal agenda, it
could start a campaign within days and show that such insults against
freedom, in this case the right to define your own standard of time, is
not merely coming from governments, but increasing also from
non-accountable corporations, such as Swatch. Cyber rights are more than
just privacy issues. Like in the old days of resistance against the
industrial (fordist) time regime, we can now smash the virtual Swatch Time
Regime: an attractive, new target for hacktivism and other campaigns which
are now openly defending, and shaping, the pubic domain within cyberspace,
which is neither owned or dominated by the state, nor by capital. 

The ideology of 'Global time' is the terror logic of the corporate world
state. It stands for the worst aspect of globalism: the 24-hour economy,
in which workers' rights have been abolished all together. An
impoverished, 'flexible' free-lance labour force can be employed day and
night, thereby disrupting biological rhythms and social time in general. 
Manuel Castells, in 'The Rise of the Network Society' calls it 'timeless
time', belonging to the space of flows, chacterized by the 'breaking down
of rhythmicity, either biological or social, associated with the notion of
a life cycle.' It is time, not space or natural resources, which is the
key source of value in the age of the Global Casino. Castells relates this
'edge of forever' with the denial of death, instant wars and the concept
of 'virtual time', which is of interest in the case of Swatch. But within
this context, Castells does not mention the possible rise of a spaceless,
virtual time standard, located within the networks, not longer referring
to the geographic Greenwich Mean Time. The tyranny of one global time is
already visible in such sectors as banking, transportation, telecom and
call centers in particular, airlines, and the service industry in general.
And the revolt only has to start: net.strikes, computer sabotage,
simulation of work, actions against surveillance, avatars pretending
actual presence... 

The origins of this 'gnostic' project are obvious. We can refer to
Barlow's 'Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace' (February 1996),
the impact this manifesto had on the corporate world, with the Swatch coup
d’etat as one of the outcomes. The seductive sex appeal of leaving the
messy world behind and starting all over again is still in place and has
its legitimate reasons (and market opportunities) It belongs to every
self-proclaimed revolution to abolish the previous time/date standard and
start all over again at day one. Everyone who has ever been involved in
intercontinental chats, video conferencing or webcasts will understand the
use of a clear time standard. Too many mistakes have been made with GMT,
due to the summer and winter time confusion and the fact that GMT, UK time
and the time on the European continent are three different settings. So
the attempt of Swatch does make sense within the context of collaborative
use of audio, video and text channels. For affluent cyber-youngsters it
seems an attractive idea that it is neither day nor night in cyberspace. 
It is cool to stay up all night, hang out in one of your favorite chat
rooms, do together, surf, hack, have some cybersex (whatever
that may be). But that is all lifestyle, cleverly used by marketing
companies that anticipate further spreading of the attitudes of the early
adapters. This marginal cyberculture is getting more and more (mis)used as
a pretext for monopolistic profiteering of the worst kind. 

We have to become polymorphous, again and again: there are many times, not
one time. There are the cosmic, astrological, dream times. And there are
many cyberspaces, not just the internet. Let the net.times roll, and let
us come up with an open source standard, a virtual time which belongs to
all, and nobody. Let us fight corporate takeover, and celebrate the wild
diversity of all possible wetware times: the ecstatic time of the
never-ending rave, the time of fate, the time stretch of the media mixes.
There is the extensive time of boredom and reflection, and our intense
times of experience and flashes of pleasure and enlightenment. And let us
ignore all clocks, specially the ones from Swatch, whether real or


"I would like to swim against the stream of time: I would like to erase
the consequences of certain events and restore an initial condition.  But
every moment of my life brings with it an accumulation of new facts and
each of these new facts brings with it its consequences; so the more I
seek to return to the zero moment from which I set out, the further I move
away from it; though all my actions are bent on erasing the consequences
of previous actions and though I manage to achieve appreciable results in
this erasure, enough to open my heart to hopes of immediate relief, I
must, however, bear in mind that my every move to erase previous events
provokes a rain of new events, which complicate the situation worse than
before and which I will then, in their turn, have to try to erase.
Therefore I must calculate carefully every move so as to achieve the
maximum of erasure with the minimum of recomplication."

Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveler


        public void destroy() {

There's no time like Mo-time 
by Jim Molnar 

My friends Tony and Ed called it "Mo-Time" in my honor, in those days when
the world stood still for us. Seconds, minutes and hours were measured by
our spinning on the axis of youth; those years reckoned on our orbit, not
the earth's. The concept of lateness had no real meaning for me then:
Mo-Time had no connection to clocks. Schedules had limited pragmatic
value, of course, especially on those Saturday nights when I'd managed to
wrangle my father's new '67 Buick for transportation - those weekends when
Ed and Tony and I would drive off to sightsee around northeastern Ohio,
drumming on the dashboard to AM-radio music.

Once on the road, we three left time behind as we cruised along
incandescent urban streets ruffled with canvas awnings over hardware
storefronts, formica diners, and taverns from which red light and
cigarette smoke poured onto the sidewalks. Through scrupulous suburbs with
St. Francis statues in front-yard flower beds. And away among brick and
clapboard villages that decanted into farmsteads and rolling cornfields.

But to make sure we got started in the first place, the guys would apply a
half-hour to 45-minute "Mo-Time conversion factor" to our travel planning.  
If they wanted to rendezvous about 8 p.m., they told me to arrive at 7:30,
figuring I'd actually show up by 8:15. Ed and Tony learned to set me ahead
the way some people set their bedside alarm clocks.  My attitude toward
time wasn't genetic. Lateness drove my father crazy. Part of his job
involved selling clocks. He left for work so punctually every morning that
he developed nodding acquaintances with other commuters during rush hour,
passing them daily about the same spot on the route downtown. He arrived
home within minutes of the same time each evening: 5:50. My mother began
to dish out dinner when she calculated his car would be turning onto our
street, and it'd be hot on his plate when he walked in the door.

However, my mother passed between my father's and my time frames with
almost miraculous ease. Each morning, she'd begin crowing me awake an hour
before I really had to get up for school. "Yerlate, yerlate! Geddup
yerlate!" she'd call, then with sainted ruthlessness repeat her reveille
every 10 minutes from the bottom of the stairs to my attic bedroom until I
reached some vaguely functional level of consciousness.

To this day, I hear that phrase in the sunrise ruckus of birds outside my
bedroom window as the snooze alarm buzzes through its long countdown:
"Yerlate geddup, yerlate yerlate!" My mother used to postulate that my
predisposition to being late could be traced to my birth. I arrived two
months prematurely, and I've been compensating ever since.  I remain
unrepentantly tardy to this day. The Mo-Time conversion factor has been
programmed into my body clock.  I've long appreciated the irony in my
adopting a profession with daily deadlines - appreciated it far more than
my editors have, I'll tell you.  But it wasn't until I adopted traveling
as a vocation that I realized fate's hand in setting my circadian rhythms.  
Mo-Time is traveler's time.

I seldom wear a watch when I travel. It's such a relief to be without it
and the guilt written all over its face that it's almost like a
mini-vacation every time I take it off my wrist. Within the broader limits
of vacation allotments and airline and train schedules, my traveling tends
to be governed altogether by forces other than time. I sleep when I'm
tired; eat when I'm hungry; sit when my feet hurt; pass my time at a
single cafe table for hours when moved by a good conversation, a good
book, a poem, or the spectacle of people passing by.  In a word, traveling
for me is "organic." It feels so very different from the not-traveling
part of my life, that I'm forever struggling to reconcile the two.

The duality is deeply carved in our cultural history, however. For much of
human history - and even now in many cultures around the world - the
passage of time was viewed quite differently from the way it's viewed, and
used, in our tick-tock society. Until the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus,
in the 1500s, observed that the earth was merely a cog in a great cosmic
mechanism, our perception of time was organic - based on what we saw and
experienced in nature. There was the sun. There were the moon and the
stars. Day followed night. Season followed season: a time to sow, a time
to reap, a time to be born, a time to die...  It was hard to be late in a
universe where past, present and future blended so smoothly and naturally
into one another that time not so much passed as it hovered. It simply
was. After Copernicus came Galileo, Bacon, Descartes, Isaac Newton... each
adding scientific, mathematical and philosophical weight to the notion of
time as a driving force on the cosmic order of things.  Especially in the
Cartesian and Newtonian views, time became less a natural part of the way
things were than an energy of sorts that powered the mechanism of the
cosmos - a separate factor that, in effect, prescribed how everything did
and should happen in a proper sequence over a given period.

In Descartes' 17th century, the art of clockmaking became highly refined.
The philospher even used the clock as a model to describe his view of the
human "machine." As the Industrial Age was born in the 18th century, the
world-as-machine became the basis not only for scientific thought, but for
the organization of Western life and labor: factories that operated on
strict production schedules and a work ethic dependent on and measure by

Time, not task, increasingly became the focus of our work. The Seth Thomas
Clock Company of Connecticut invented the wind-up alarm in 1876.  Now, 120
years later, it's become almost impossible not to be late for something
every day. Except when we travel. And for many, not even then.  Each new
study of how we spend our leisure time points to our lengthening workdays.
Surveys reports that weekend getaways rather than longer vacations have
become the rule for most Americans, who already labor under the most
meager vacation allowance among Western industrialized nations. Sabbatical
programs are rare in the U.S. businessplace. Planned recreational
activities and visits to manufactured theme and resort destinations are
growing in popularity, compared with freer, unstructured, independent
travel.  And so-called pressure to compete in the "new world market" is
cited in the strengthening of all those trends which tend to make
traveling more like our clock- and production-driven workaday lives. We
seem to have been caught in a kind of time warp, a vortex rooted deep in
our past and spiraling out of control at the turn of the 21st century.  
For me, I think, a tendency toward tardiness is more than simply an
annoying habit. In the vice a little virtue may be hidden; in my feeble,
even misguided protest against time management, is some struggle for
salvation from the machine. A salvation I taste when I'm traveling -
moving counterclockwise, in Mo-Time, through the world.

(Editor's note: This column was completed more than an hour after the
writer's deadline.)

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