Time as socially constructed

Although I didn’t have the language to describe it until partway through graduate school, one of my favorite things since the beginning of my college years has been to realize how much something I once took accepted as obvious and apparent is, in fact, socially constructed. Although there are many examples of this that I like (say, “what a country is,” or “French grammar”), I think my favorite realization has been that time is socially constructed.

This stands out as a particularly interesting concept to me because time obviously has some basis in the physical world, so it’s tempting to reject the idea of time being socially constructed as one might reject the idea of oxygen being socially constructed. However, while the pure concept of time certainly exists outside of our puny human social conventions, it’s impossible for us to deal with it in any practical sense except through our puny human social conventions. The video below (which I discovered through Boing Boing) is a wonderful example of what I mean:

Fun fact for after the video: You may have noticed in the video that the term “Coordinated Universal Time” is abbreviated UTC, which obviously doesn’t correspond with the English term. Where does the acronym come from, then? Well, “Coordinated Universal Time” is also known by its French equivalent « temps universel coordonné », which has the same letters… but still doesn’t abbreviate as UTC. Indeed, the “UTC” acronym is a compromise between English speakers and French speakers, each of which lobbied for the acronym to follow their own language before ultimately agreeing on the combination of shared letters that didn’t correspond to either language.