Time and authenticity
Time makes all the things in our life meaningful but also authentic. The word authentic comes from Ancient Greek afthéntis, which has a morbid meaning of committing suicide or murdering with one’s own hands. The Greeks understood that in order for something to be authentic, one needs to take a stand and make a final, irreversible choice by choosing one thing while killing all the other possibilities. For something to be authentic and meaningful it has to be final, restricted, non-negotiable. For example a sweater knitted by hand by my grandmother is more meaningful than if she had bought it at the store. A concert experienced live is more meaningful than the same one watched on a TV screen.
Time is the ultimate value that makes these things authentic and meaningful – my grandmother invested her own time to knit the sweater instead of just buying it. The band chose to be in my city at that particular time instead of being somewhere else. It is time that makes everything non-negotiable – in my limited life I can only do this instead of that; I can only be here instead of there. If life were endless, I would be able to eventually do everything and be everywhere at some point. Authenticity and time are interlinked. The fact that one’s own life is finite, the most valuable investment one can make for others and oneself is their own time and this is what creates meaning and value.
But authenticity and meaning are lost as soon as time is attached to an exchange value such as the clock, money, technology or anything else. They transform the definite choices we make in time into something negotiable, non-definite and therefore less meaningful and less authentic. They are the instruments that obscure the finitude of time and create an illusion of infinity.
One generally tends to confuse time with the clock, but in fact the clock takes away the authenticity of real time. For example, we are usually slightly offended when we notice someone looking at their watch in our presence. The gesture indicates that the authentic time dedicated to spending it together here and now is potentially being exchanged for someone, something or somewhere else. The clock takes the individual away from being in a specific there and places them on what Heidegger calls ‘world-time’ which belongs to everyone and no one in particular.
Since its invention by Benedictine monks in the 10th-13th centuries, the clock is the first piece of technology that transformed authentic time into an anonymous, inauthentic measurement. But without it any coordination between people would not be possible. The clock is like the language of time we use to communicate amongst our own times. Just like a language has its segmented sentences, words and letters, the clock segments time into hours, minutes and seconds. This language of time through the clock is also the basis of the world economy. The segmentation of time allowed it to be easily bought and sold on the labour and consumer markets which eventually led time to take the form of another anonymous exchange value – money. “Time is money” Benjamin Franklin once famously said. But with money the authenticity of time is also lost. Just like clock time, money belongs to everyone and no one in particular, therefore investing money is not as authentic as investing one’s own time. In fact nothing is, because the value of time precedes anything else.
The Internet and digital technology also follow the spirit of the clock’s inauthentic ‘world time.’ In fact, technology is pervaded with anonymity. Just like the clock on our wrists, the smartphone in our pockets never leaves us to be really there where we really are. We are always with one foot in the non-negotiable, authentic there, yet with the other we are in the anonymous world cyberspace which belongs to everyone and no one. Digital communication is non-personal, anonymous and therefore non-authentic. If we compare today’s social media to a handwritten letter a hundred years ago dedicated to someone specifically, the speed and facility of digital communication is done at the expense of time and authenticity because one posts a status or a picture destined to everybody and nobody. Neither do text messages require a big investment in time.Print