Saturday, October 16, 2010

Digital clocks, kids, and our analog world

Or, why kids today don't read analog clocks.

I was having a discussion recently with a friend about age differences and cultural frames of reference. The discussion was in reference to relationships, but touched on something interesting. Namely, that today's youth don't read analog clocks. In many cases, they CAN'T read them-having never been taught how.

This is shameful. Not only is it an indictment of our educational system (and parents' willingness to take charge of their kids' education), it also exposes a lack of mental flexibility in our youth.

Does this mean that our youth are dumb? Hardly. The fact that we have to teach them how to read an analog clock exposes a difference in our cultural frames of reference. We, of a slightly older generation, see digital clocks as shorthand. They have meaning to us because we understand the flow of time. We were raised using analog representations of an analog world. Yet, if you asked today's youth how many clocks they have within ten feet of them, they would likely answer somewhere between 4 and 7 with a very high likelihood that NONE of them are analog.

They have their computers, iPods, clock radios, cameras, cell phones, and digital wristwatches, but have no concept of time. They have only ever had instantaneous representations of time RIGHT NOW, with little concept of the flow. We have given them the facts but have forsaken the underlying knowledge of the flow for the precision of the moment.

Think about that for a second. We, who have been raised with sweep second hands on our analog wristwatches, and who have had the calming metronomic sound of the grandfather clock somewhere pulsing out the seconds of the day, understand the flow of time and its impact on our life's rhythm. We still have the ability to understand that an hour of time is about fifteen degrees of the sun's movement. We can look at an analog clock and quickly discern that it is 15 minutes to the top of the hour, without having to do the math. We can still read something that not only gives us"right now", it also shows us the relationship to another "when" with no additional conscious thought required.

Time is the measure of our lives. It is a shame that we have taught our children that instantaneous precision is more important than elegance in thought. Sometimes it takes a less precise representation of something to convey the true meaning of a thing. Sometimes relativism is more important than precision.

Think about that.




Alan said...

I think an analog clock is more useful for time relationships. I get a better feel for my day measured against the analog dial than the stark face of a digital clock.

I wear an analog, mechanical watch for just that reason. (That and it's retro and radioactive)

On the other hand when I want to know the time RIGHT NOW, I usually look at my computer screen.

Joe in reno said...

Try to explain "clockwise & counter-clockwise to a digital age type. Talk about blank stares.....