Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Does anyone really know what time it is?

An email correspondent said today
Here in the library were I work we have a large grandfather style
clock (with modern, not Roman, numbers on the face) right near the
entrance. When asked what time it was, I used to point to the clock.
But I found that a huge number of library visitors, including many
I'd have thought were too old to have missed out on analog clock
faces, give me a blank look and say "I can't tell from that." They
only know how to read a digital clock, but they still use expressions
like "Half past two" or "quarter to five."

In this day and age when everyone with a cell phone has connection to almost exactly the correct time, that is mind boggling. As an engineer, I seldom think about the technology (or lack of it) that is displayed, moving from one form of display to another.

As a writer and sometimes editor and proofreader, I used to give this test to folks who said that fonts REALLY matter to the comprehension of the material. I'd say (and to you who are reading this, don't peek, just give the real answer with your eyes closed after you read the question):
Did the last item you read have the lower-case "G" with an open or closed tail below the line?

Comments and discussion welcomed.


  1. Very interesting! With the analogy clock disappearing, the old way of learning to 'tell time' may disappear too. If every clock is digital, it may not be a big loss. But I have mixed feelings about that. Maybe it's a generational thing.

  2. I heartily agree, old pal. My digital watches languish in a drawer, while my analog Luminox is hardly ever off my arm. And 10-4 on lowercase g (and others) not dropping their descenders into the Underline Zone; as I understand it, underlining text is looked down upon in modern typography. But what do I know?

  3. @both
    I think we're a long way from every clock being digital. Unless there were to be a sweep of magnitude 10, we'll still have 'em around.

    I wear my digital Casio, but it is one that syncs with WWVB at 4 minutes after midnite and hourly if that fails until 5 ayem. I try hard to put it where the waves DO SHINE every night. When I bought it (there is a function that tells you when it was last synchronized), it hadn't been so set in over two months...by the clock. ;)