Indeed, even time is a social construction. This point is well-illustrated by our bi-yearly clock-switching ritual in the name of “daylight savings.” Writes Economist Nick Rowe at Worthwhile Canadian Initiative:
I’ve heard stories about people who set their watches 10 minutes fast, so they won’t be late for meetings. It’s hard to understand how it could work. Do they forget they set their watches 10 minutes fast? Because if they remember, they should be able to figure out they’ve got an extra 10 minutes, so there’s still plenty of time to grab a quick coffee before the meeting starts. If it works, they must be fooling themselves.
This weekend the government will tell us all to put our watches back one hour. They want us all to do everything one hour later. It’s hard to understand how it will work. Do they think we will all forget we’ve set our watches one hour slow? What’s more, they can’t even force us to change our watches.
But I know it will work. We will (almost) all set our watches one hour slow, and we will (almost) all start doing (almost) everything one hour later, by the sun, compared to what we would have done if we hadn’t changed our watches. But why?
Why? Because, as I’m sure Rowe’s well aware, collective agreements matter. In this case, you’ll be early! For everything! Doctor’s appointments, classes, meetings, dates… you’ll show up for lunch and the restaurant will still be closed… you’ll drop off your kid and the school won’t be open… you’ll arrive at happy hour and the drinks will be full price! Tragedy! You’ll get fired for leaving work early everyday and piss off your spouse with an alarm clock that goes off an hour before it needs to. There are real consequences, in other words, for deviating from the norm… even when it is a total fabrication.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.