It's a cute concept, and I think I'd use one, but, c'mon, they only
had the guts to metrify a day -- but not the calendar. Why not go all
the way, to, oh, three Web years/solar year? And what kind of
"Internet minute" is twice as long as a "New York Minute"? And most
of all, *Internet* time durn well ought to have been out of *1024*,
not 1000. Sigh... RK]
March 7, 1999
It's @786. Do You Know Where Your Computer Is?
By AMY HARMON
When computer consultant Gustavo Carreno received an e-mail message
at his Lisbon office last week asking for an appointment to talk
about universal time, an old concept recently repackaged by the
Swatch Group, the world's largest watch maker, he sent the following
"Well the thing is, I'm not that good on converting time but I think
there is a -5 hour of difference between Portugal/Lisbon and New
York, meaning that you'll have to add 5 hours to your local time to
get my time. So the best thing to do is to say that I'll be available
at my work fone from @416 'till @791."
So it was that at @786, or about one hour after the sun was overhead
in New York City, or 0552 Greenwich Mean Time, Carreno, 29, explained
his enthusiasm for what Swatch is calling "Internet time." This way,
when he meets with friends and colleagues online, they "have an
understanding," he said. "It's @786 all around the world."
The Swatch scheme, which divides the day into 1,000 "swatch beats"
equivalent to 1 minute and 26.4 seconds, is unabashedly commercial.
The system's meridian is located, conveniently enough, over the
Swatch building in Biel, Switzerland, where midnight strikes @000
beats. Swatch will begin selling a $70 watch that tells Internet
time, among other things, in the United States this month. The
product is already for sale in Europe.
But the company has also made software that displays Internet time on
a computer screen available free from Swatch's site on the World Wide
Web. About 45,000 people downloaded it in January.
Perhaps it is not surprising that the notion of a world without time
zones strikes a chord even among some of the more gimmick-weary
Internet users. With its capacity to collapse distance, the computer
network has already managed to alter the physics of space. And
whether or not Internet time a la Swatch catches on, the Internet
seems to be responsible for an increasing impatience with time as it
has been kept thus far.
"There is something screwed up about our sense of time," said Danny
Hillis, a computer scientist who is spearheading an effort to build a
clock that will strike once every 10,000 years. (He wants to
encourage a longer view of the future.)
"Our classical notion of time that we've inherited from the
industrial age doesn't fit with the way we live now," he said. "Time
zones made a lot of sense when we stayed in one zone. Now I find I'm
living on CNN time rather than my local time. I can call you back at
the end of the hour, but I have no idea which hour it is."
In the United States, cities set the time by the sun until the late
1800s, when time zones were invented by the railroads to coordinate
schedules and avoid collisions. In the 1960s, after the vibrations in
a cesium atom were found to be a more reliable measure that the
rotation of the Earth, universal time became based on a a calculation
done in Paris of the average of atomic clocks. (Most people still
look to Greenwich, England, for the universal time, established in an
But the Internet may already have warped the way its frequent users
experience time. In the technology industry, "Internet time" has come
to mean something like dog years, denoting the ever-accelerating
speeds of microprocessors, data transmission and startup companies
going public. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's business
school, for instance, recently buried an Internet time capsule -- to
be opened in five years.
So now there are concerns that Internet time means abandoning
biological rhythms in favor of 24-hour computer clocks synchronized
to the nanosecond. But it has also increased the demand for the
correct time. The guardians of the Network Time Protocol, which
allows computers on the Internet to adjust their clock within
milliseconds of Greenwich time, say requests for the correct time
have doubled in the last six months.
For Nicolas Hayek, the founder and chief executive of the Swatch
Group, that is all the more reason why people will want to buy
Swatch's first Internet time watches. "The Internet has made human
beings more globally conscious of being on a small planet where we
are all really equal," Hayek said. "Internet time is the perfect
measuring stick for this era."
Judah Levine, a physicist at the time and frequency division of the
National Institute for Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo., is
not so sure. After all, he notes, they're still sleeping in China
when New Yorkers are having breakfast, even if it's @430 in
"They have the same problems with the Earth going around the sun as
we always did," Levine said. "The Internet can't change that."