How We Came To Be Run By Time : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture The breakdown of time, the time that has been pacing your life since your birth, was born through technology. Living by the clock has changed the way we view the world, says astrophysicist Adam Frank.
NPR logo How We Came To Be Run By Time

How We Came To Be Run By Time

Keith Tsuji /iStockphoto
Time is a rather recent invention in the history of humans.
Keith Tsuji /iStockphoto

Where did time come from? How did it start?

I don't mean cosmic time in a "Big Bang" kind of way. No, I mean something far more intimate.

A couple of years ago I wrote a whole book on this subject called About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang. What intrigued me most as I did my research for the book was the way different societies and historical periods shaped the lives of their citizens through what I called different cultural "time-logics." More than anything else, it's technology that determines how a culture could parse the day into a new time-logic.

The most potent example of this connection between time, technology and experience was the invention of the mechanical clock. I could explain more, but, luckily, Adam Westbrook has done me one better by embracing the idea through a short, sharp documentary cleverly called A Briefer History of Time.

It's only 3 minutes and 56 seconds long — and by the end you'll understand why those two numbers not only mean something to you, but also how that meaning controls your life.


Adam Frank is a co-founder of the 13.7 blog, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester, a book author and a self-described "evangelist of science." You can keep up with more of what Adam is thinking on Facebook and Twitter: @adamfrank4.