Early in A World Lit Only By Fire, William Manchester’s book about the factors that brought about the Renaissance, the author writes: ” In the medieval mind there was no awareness of time….Medieval men were rarely aware of which century they were living in . There was no reason they should have been …Life revolved around the passing of the seasons and such cyclical events as religious holidays, harvest time , and local fetes. In all Christendom, there was no such thing as a watch, a clock, or… anything resembling a calendar. Generations succeeded one another in a meaningless , timeless blur. In the whole of Europe, which was the world as they new it , very little happened.”
This state of affairs lasted for hundreds of years. People lead short brutish lives devoted to keeping body and soul together. Living at a subsistence level as the common people did, their only thought was for the present,about how to get through the day and perhaps the morrow. There was no past, no future. It was only after the invention of clocks that people became aware of the passage of time, that it could be measured in crisp, exact intervals in minutes and hours.
Today , of course, clocks and watches are commonplace and we all should be aware of how time passes. We are, but usually we concern ourselves only with schedules and getting things done on time. Holistic considerations about the passage of time usually occur to us only on significant days such as birthdays and , of course, at the beginning of a New Year.
For me , and I suspect many others, such retrospectives are flawed because thinking about the past is tricky. Some events seem recent; others which occurred at about the same time or earlier, seem far away. These displacements in time are entirely random and unpredictable on an individual, personal level. However, thinking about the past has its uses since, with proper record keeping, we are able to discern trends and measure progress. It also gives us a sense of history. The real advantage is that we are now able to plan for the future. Knowing what happened in the past enables us to project our needs in the coming years and to plan for them.