Our Clocks Are Out of Time

Jonas DoerrOpinions Columnist

I checked three clocks in six on-campus buildings, and less than half were on time. This is a bigger problem than one might think.

In Beck Hall, I examined three clocks: one was a minute slow, one was a minute fast, and one was on time. In the Library, one was two minutes slow, one was three minutes fast, and one was five minutes fast. In Nobel, the clock in 1303 was a minute fast, the clock in 1220 was two minutes slow, and in 1342 it was right on time.

It’s just a couple minutes, one might say. Why does it matter? And there are some reasonable arguments for why it might be beneficial to have misaligned clocks.

Time might not be all that important while learning. If students are staring at the clock, they might be focusing on the wrong thing. Especially in the Library, it could be good for readers to lose track of time while lost in research. 

Two buildings’ clocks were consistent through all three that I checked. In the Evelyn Young Dining Room, all three clocks were magically one minute ahead. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, in Olin all three clocks were right on time. The math majors must have made sure of that. 

Even then, what benefit do on-time clocks serve? In the Campus Center, all the clocks are the same, but at what cost? Students believe they have to choke down their food one minute faster than they otherwise would have. And yet even this precision is probably wasted on the majority of students.

Most likely, no one noticed the clocks that were off, except for the sort of people like me who can’t stand even a row of chairs that isn’t evenly distributed by color. Most people use their phones or the clocks on their computers to keep track of time nowadays. Students might only use the clocks if their professors disallow electronics during class.

One might argue, why fix the clocks if no one uses them? I would argue, why even have them? 

Nearly every academic room on campus has a clock. That amounts to dozens of clocks per building and hundreds of clocks on campus. According to siliconvalleypower.com, a clock uses between 2-4 kilowatts of energy a month. With a few hundred clocks on campus, turning them all off could save around a megawatt of power every month – enough to power a house for several weeks.

Getting rid of the clocks would also make classes more engaging for students who periodically check the time. If you have ever been waiting for a car ride to end by constantly checking the time, you know how that makes it feel far longer. Time flies when we’re having fun because we’re not thinking about time, and removing clocks from the walls could have the same effect.

No clocks would also save time for the maintenance staff who have to keep the clocks punctual. I don’t blame whoever has to update the clocks; it’s a huge undertaking. Having a few mistimed clocks with the hundreds Gustavus has is about as surprising as seeing a Monday Moments email on a Monday.

It might also assuage some unease in students. Not only would it help calm the orderly-minded students on campus like myself to avoid inaccurate clocks, but it also might increase institutional trust in other students. If our timekeepers vary by as much as eight minutes from room to room, it’s a large ask to hope students trust them without double-checking. And if students cannot trust time, the basis of our academic schedules, it is logical that their trust might erode towards other parts of their environment.

While some might fear that professors would not know when to end class, that would not be a problem. Many professors use a slide presentation, and their computers give the time in the corner of their screen. If not, they would likely have a wristwatch or at least a phone to tell the time.

And without a clock to stare at, less goodwill will be lost towards professors who go a couple minutes over. Instead of hearing the ominous rustle as everyone packs up at 9:49, professors can calmly end their classes without getting the evil eye from students watching the clock.

It’s time to move on from the clocks on our walls. The minute faults in the clock’s minutes are excusable, but we could save energy, be more engaged, and trust our environment more if the ever-present hands no longer ticked. Let us move on at Gustavus, beyond the constraints of seconds and hours, beyond the prisons of clocks, and into the freedom of now, the only time when we can truly make our lives count.

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