"in a 24-hour society we try to colonise the night"



How the 24-hour society is stealing time from the night—Leon Kreitzman, Aeon

In a world without clocks, it is natural cues or events that give some sense of time. Each day sees the sun and moon rise and set. The tides rise and fall. Seasons come and go, and return again. Planets move across the sky and come back to their starting point. It is a world of endless cycles but essentially changeless.

This organic relationship to time goes hand in hand with a far more relaxed approach to punctuality and appointments. It is more important to see a family friend than to keep an appointment or to make it to work. The prioritisation of affiliation or relationships is an important characteristic of event-time societies. Time walks in these societies, while in the United States and Britain it either runs or it flies.

There are two easy ways to solve the problem, and one harder way. First, we could stop watching television. This would free up three to four hours a day for most of us. Second, we could stop buying so many goods, and more especially services. This would save some time. We would not need shops opening round the clock. Third, if we purchased less, we would not need to earn as much and so could work fewer hours.

When time is the scarce resource, then the night is the source of supply. So in a 24-hour society we try to colonise the night

When time is scarce, then the night is our resource. By colonising the night, we don’t create time but we do start to use the available time more effectively, freeing ourselves from the coiled grip of the time squeeze.

The 24-hour society is more than simply extending shop-opening hours and all-night mass transit. It is about restructuring the temporal order. Eventually, it will lead to a different construction of daily activities, freeing people from the restraints and deadlines imposed today by rigid adherence to clock time. We will move into a more flexible and free-wheeling approach, coordinating activities on the fly.

The great circadian disruption through which we have lived since the invention of the electric light is bad for our physical and mental health. The 24-hour society will present further risks. Exactly what, though, should be the subject of public debate – preferably after a good night’s sleep.