Every city, town and village in Britain used to set its clocks to its own local solar time, which gave each locale a palpable sense of identity, time and place. If you lived in Newcastle, noon was when the sun was highest, no matter what the time in London was. But as the railways brought standardized timetables, local times were demonized and swept aside. By 1855, nearly all public clocks were set to GMT, or “London time,” and the country became one time zone.
The rebellious city of Bristol was one of the last to agree to standardized time: The main town clock on the Corn Exchange building kept a third hand to denote “Bristol time” for the local population who refused to adjust. It remains there to this day.
The 1884 International Meridian Conference is often framed as the moment clock time took over the world. The globe was sliced into 24 time zones declaring different clock times, all synchronized to the time of the most powerful empire, the British and their GMT. Nobody would decipher time from nature anymore — they would be told what time it was by a central authority. The author Clark Blaise has argued that once this was implemented, “It didn’t matter what the sun proclaimed at all. ‘Natural time’ was dead.” “Clock time is not what most people think it is. It was created, and it is frequently altered and adjusted to fit social and political purposes.”
In reality, this process had already been taking place throughout the 1800s as a result of European colonialism, imperialism and oppression. Colonialism was not just a conquest of land, and therefore space, but also a conquest of time. From South Asia to Africa to Oceania, imperialists assaulted alternative forms of timekeeping. They saw any region without European-style clocks, watches and church bells as a land without time.
“European global expansion in commerce, transport and communication was paralleled by, and premised upon, control over the manner in which societies abroad related to time,” the Australian historian Giordano Nanni wrote in his book, “The Colonization of Time.” “The project to incorporate the globe within a matrix of hours, minutes and seconds demands recognition as one of the most significant manifestations of Europe’s universalizing will.” In short, if the East India Company was the physical embodiment of British colonialism overseas, GMT was the metaphysical embodiment.
The Western separation of clock time from the rhythms of nature helped imperialists establish superiority over other cultures. When British colonizers swept into southeastern Australia in search of gold, they depicted the timekeeping practices of the indigenous societies they encountered as irregular and unpredictable in contrast to the rational and linear nature of the clock. This was despite the fact that indigenous societies in the region had advanced forms of timekeeping based on the moon, stars, rains, the blossoming of certain trees and shrubs and the flowing of tides, which they used to determine the availability of food and resources, distance and calendar dates.
“Nineteenth-century Europeans generally conceived of such closeness to nature as calling into question the very humanity of those who practiced it,” Nanni wrote. “This was partly determined by the fact that Enlightenment values and ideals had come to associate the idea of ‘humanness’ with man’s transcendence and domination over nature; and its corresponding opposite — savagery — as a mode of life that existed ‘closer to nature.’”
In Melbourne, churches and railway stations grew quickly on the horizon, bringing with them the hands, faces, bells and general cacophony of clock time. By 1861, a time ball was installed in the Williamstown lighthouse and Melbourne was officially synchronized to Greenwich Mean Time. British colonizers attempted to integrate indigenous peoples into their labor force with unsatisfactory results due to their unwillingness to sacrifice their own form of timekeeping. They did not believe in “meaningless toil” and “obedience to the clock,” wrote the Australian sociologist Mike Donaldson. “To them, time was not a tyrant.”
In some parts of Australia, the indigenous resistance to Western clock time continued defiantly. In 1977, in the tiny town of Pukatja (then known as Ernabella) a giant, revolving, electronically operated clock was constructed near the town center for the local Pitjantjatjara people to coordinate their lives around. A decade later, a white construction worker at a town council meeting noted that the clock had been broken for months. Nobody had noticed, because nobody looked at it.
Taken from: https://www.noemamag.com/the-tyranny-of-time/