What It's Like To Live Without Knowing The Time

Earlier this year, Twitpic CEO Steven Corona spent 30 days without social media. Now, he's given up time. That's right — no clocks, no watches, nothing digital. He shares what life is like with the sun as his guide.

Image via 3D Stock (Shutterstock).

Time. When broken down into minutes, hours, days, such small units over a lifetime, they don't really seem to exist. It's almost like a reality that we all subscribe to — existing only because we agreed it should. On the other hand, time is always marching forward. Infinite. Abrupt when divided into years, decades, centuries.

The only unit of time that matters is heartbeats. Even if the world were totally silent, even in a dark room covered in five layers of foam, you'd be able to count your own heartbeats. (Paul Ford, 10 Timeframes)

The smallest units, insignificant over a lifetime, are also the most stressful. The most frustrating. I was sick of it.

I Unsubscribed to the Clock

I dropped my watch right into the garbage. Shut off the glowing green-blue digital clocks that seem to piggyback on every appliance known to man — microwave, stove, VCR. The one in the corner of my computer screen? Gone. On my iPhone, I changed it to a random timezone so, technically, it still has a clock, but at quick glance? Almost useless.

The effects were immediate. The first few days were so confusing. I worked on my laptop all day, totally devoured and consumed by creating things. I had no idea whether it was 11am or 7pm, and didn't care — it was beautiful! I was able to really lose myself in a project without having a clock to constantly distract.

I learned how to read the sun — a skill that adapted on its own, so it was surprising when I caught myself turning to the window to figure out if I was done working for the day. I've tested myself and I'm pretty accurate, even with the season change.

Three Months Later

Though I've gotten used to the mental freedom, three months into it, the bigger changes are still sticking around. I'm less stressed. I don't worry about how long things take or even bother considering how long they should take. Over a lifetime, an extra couple of minutes here or there is a rounding error and a worthy price to pay for the benefits.

I'm no longer chained to the clock. I measure my life in heartbeats and years, the only significant units to me.

Full disclosure: I used the calendar on my phone to notify me before an appointment.

Living without time [Steven Corona]

Steve Corona is the CTO at Twitpic and author of Scaling PHP Applications.


    Sorry, with that disclosure, this becomes the story of a hippy who "doesn't need the stinking electric company, just his guitar and somewhere to plug the amp in".

    I think the point of this is more that we in western society put far too much emphasis on time. While time should be serve as a guide, quite a few of us have becomed programmed to sleep, wake, eat and work by a timetable. Even worse is the inflexibility we show when things don't go to do these times. This is similar to how hooked on technology people are, where people can be out for dinner as a group and yet be staring their mobile phones for majority of the time, on facebook, twitter or playing a game.

    Unhook from technology, or in this case time schedules while disorientating can actually be quite liberating. Time as in a clock, like technology should be our servant. We should not be slaves to it.

      Just take a minute and realise what you just posted...

        The irony has gone over his head.
        ...unless he's trolling...

    Sounds good if your work and lifestyle fits with that. Given I need to have client appointments at certain times and get my kids to school and pick them up at set times I think it's an idea that sounds good but not practical for me for everyday. I pretty much work that way though on weekends and enjoy having zero appointments or commitments and being totally flexible. Holidays too !

    Yeah, I get this. I used to find I would repeatedly look at my watch with a level of anxiety, so I stopped wearing one years ago. I lived in the bush for a few years, working only part-time and also developed a sense of time and season with the movements of the sun that has stayed with me. There is a freedom and creativity that goes with laying off incessant clock-watching and children do it naturally when they play, leading to a sense of timelessness.

    Try buying tickets to high demand concerts without a watch and enjoy not being able to go.

    I never said I don't check the time for such events. I use my phone and calendar and computer often enough as it is. I think these reactive comments are missing the main point of the article.

      If the point is that "people should only watch the clock on things they think are important enough to watch the clock on", then sure, thanks for that.

      Otherwise it seemed to be "I can't have a clock nearby without looking at it and getting distracted" and whilst that's true for many people, I would argue that having a phone with a calendar on it is probably actually worse.

      When someone says "I turned to the window to see if I was finished work for the day", you have someone who is slave to a *timetable*, not to a *clock*. For the lifestyle the author is describing, you should be looking at the "work" to decide whether you are finished or not.

    Unfortunately, my lifestyle utterly prohibits such living. Everything I do during daylight hours demands an awareness of the time.

    I punch in and roll out of work according to their schedule. I commute on buses that operate (theoretically) on a timetable. The kids have classes and commitments.

    The clock-free lifestyle is a fantasy one. I'd love to live it (in fact, I kind of embody the principles now by eating when hungry, and turning in when tired), but I - like most people - will probably never get the chance to properly live it for more than a day or two at a time.

    My wife is currently watchless. Not through any high minded attempts to break away from time constraints - she just keeps losing or breaking watches. As a result of this, I seem to be the one being held responsible for all time keeping duties, irrespective of whether or not I'm aware of her commitments (my psychic powers clearly aren't at the level she seems to think they are). So maybe those people breaking away from time constraints do experience a more relaxed life, but I bet it's a matter of balance - some other poor sod gets the extra stress you've just unloaded!

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