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The first two telephone numbers a little kid learns are usually 911 and their own. This led to a conversation I suspect many mothers have had with many curious children.
You could keep listening as it counted up in increments of 10 seconds. For a young child, there was something delightful about a sanctioned interaction with an otherwise mostly-off-limits technology—not to mention the magic of a conversation, however one-sided, with what sounded like a friendly robot.
Apparently, as the newspaper comics below suggest, I wasn’t the only kid enthralled by the service.
” said Demetrios Matsakis, the chief scientist for time services at the Naval Observatory. They don’t call as much on the weekend, and the absolute minimum time they call is Christmas. But we get a big flood of calls when we switch to Daylight [saving] time and back.”As it turns out, people have been telephoning the time for generations.
In the beginning, a telephone-based time service must have seemed like a natural extension of telegraph-based timekeeping—but it would have been radical in its own way, too, because it represented a key shift to an on-demand service.
A National Institute of Standards and Technology facility in Colorado still has a number you can call for the time, and receives about 2,000 calls a day, according to its website.
(It also has a special line for Hawaii callers—but, oddly, it gives Coordinated Universal Time, which isn’t a time zone but a time standard.
But, more broadly, the desire to know the time is deeply culturally engrained. “The experience of time,” Claudia Hammond wrote in her book, , “roots us in our mental reality.”“Time is your way of connecting to the universe, to everything that’s going on,” Matsakis told me.
That was the philosophy among ancient clock-makers, including those who constructed the great water clock of the Song dynasty, about 1,000 years ago, he says.
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