Keeping Time is both a reframing and reclaiming of time in the current contemporary climate that is the Anthropocene. It is an exploration and rejection of conventional methods of timekeeping, inviting contemplation into long term futures and shifting perceptions and experiences of temporality. 
Keeping Time takes the form of an ongoing collection of design explorations (timepieces) which initiate dialogue around hegemonic notions of time.  
“Man has created clocks more accurate than the sun.” - Alexander Rose
Our understanding and measurement of time is no longer determined by the movement of celestial bodies, but by the frequency of an atom’s vibration. We understand time to be synonymous with the measurement of time and this view is easily accepted as a universal truth; It is common, undisputed knowledge that 60 seconds form a minute, 24 hours is equal to a day and 365 days make up a year, with the exception of every fourth year when an additional ‘leap’ day appears on our calendars. Also common knowledge, but less often consciously connected to our definition of time, we understand that a day is a single rotation of the earth on its axis and that a year is the duration of the earths passage around the sun. 
Time, as a phenomenon, is not easily defined as it is not understood in its entirety. The discourse around time is broad and engages with many conflicting meanings and understandings. Here I refer to time as our hegemonic notion of time. This is the standardised and fixed nature of time as a series of linear intervals measured and understood through common artefacts, such as clocks and calendars; time that has been designed. This idea of designed time includes our system of measurement, the designed artefacts and tools which display and embody this system and the accompanying designed experiences and values. It positions time as something constructed, something that could be (and perhaps should be) re-designed.
Our understanding of time has become increasingly removed from its celestial origins. “Somehow,” writes Kevin K. Birth, anthropologist, “our culturally shaped consciousness of time has shifted away from observing cycles in the world and toward cycles embodied in objects that are manufactured.” Not only do we have a dependence on clocks when thinking about time, they have also become representative of time itself. The clock positions us in an immediate point within time, but it is narrow in its reflection of duration. It does not situate us within a period of time beyond the length of a day, arguably responsible for our propensity towards thinking in the short term. The clock reduces our conception of the ‘now’ to an eternally repeating duration of 12 hours.
Our tendency to fixate on the present has caused a distancing from the long term future. Ann Thorpe states in Eternally Yours, Time in Design, a book transcript of a 2003 Dutch conference on time, “It appears that the long-term future – decades, centuries, or millennia – has become a cultural blind spot.” She raises the concern that we have lost the ability to think beyond our own lifespan when making decisions, as our idea of ‘now’ is simultaneously shrinking and preventing us from looking beyond the here-and-now. 
The Long Now Foundation, an organisation dedicated to fostering responsibility over the framework of 10,000 years, are striving to increase the length of ‘now’ through a series of projects which encourage long term thinking and contemplation of the future. Entwined closely with this idea is the concept of futuring, a term developed by design theorist Tony Fry to be used in place of the more ambiguous and contested term that is ‘sustainability’. Futuring refers to the act of ensuring that the human species has a future. It is about the addition of time to humankind, and, inevitably, is coupled with the term defuturing, the action of removing time from ourselves through unsustainable behaviours. “Futuring depends on learning to create a long view. Rather than constructing ‘visions of the future’, the aim is to create a way of thinking predicated on the future as world-making in the present and in conditions of uncertainty.”  Futuring assumes the regeneration of the earth and its resilience against human impact in the long term, concerned instead with the self-induced and accelerating finitude of the human species. In order to ‘gain’ time, we must engage with a long term view and re-direct ourselves into a more sustainable, future-oriented mode of being.
The Long Now Foundation works within a framework of 10,000 years, taking the standpoint that reframing people’s conceptions is only effective if done in “jumps, not degrees”. Their most significant project, the 10,000 Year Clock, is a clock designed to run for 10,000 years. It is slow in its movements, responsive to the extended timeframe it embodies - “It ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium.”  Aiming to embody a sense of deep, geological time within people, it encourages speculation and conversation about the future. The scale of this clock is equally important - built within a mountain, it is designed to be monumental.
Our time measurement system is rigid and immutable, yet what if time is far more fluid than we understand it to be?
The earth’s rotations are slowing down at an approximate rate of 1.4 - 1.7 milliseconds per century. This suggests that our time measurement system will eventually fall out of synchronisation with the rotations of the earth and we will lose all relationship with the planetary movements. Currently, an additional second is being added into our time system approximately every 18 months to bring our measure of time back into synchronicity with the earth’s rotations. Yet, as the earth’s rotations slow over time, we would require more and more additional seconds to be added each year, which causes problems with certain technologies that do not have the capability to account for these sporadic additions of time. Leap seconds challenge our time system, questioning its validity, reliability and fixity. The formal decision whether to keep or abolish leap seconds from UTC has been postponed from 2015 to 2023, dealing with the misalignment of a fraction of a second, millennia into the future. Leap seconds highlight the disconnect between our time system and the earth. They raise questions of time being constant and man-made, attempting to remedy, whilst simultaneously drawing attention towards, a measurable flaw in the design of our time system. 
This idea of leap seconds proposes a recalibration of our time system to the earth’s rotations but also a possible recalibration, re-examination and critical awareness of our own values and relationships with and within time.

I am inviting you to join me in challenging this hegemonic narrative of time as an inherent universal truth and employing a critical view of the systems that govern our lives. Let us question the fixed nature of time and reimagine it in a natural and constant state of flux.


Back to Top