The Royal Observatory; home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) sits across the river from Canary Wharf, London’s new financial district. A new economy of time has arisen in tandem with the development of industrial capitalism. Today there are very few interludes of human existence that have not been taken over by ‘work-time’. The original working day was structured in response to a range of environmental, social and cultural factors. ‘Daylight’ played a central role in the formation of these working practices. [1] The past 200 years have seen a breakdown of these systems and a move towards the 24-hour working day.

In the late 1990s, a Russian/European space consortium announced plans to build and launch satellites into orbit that would reflect sunlight back onto earth. The scheme called for a series of satellites to be placed in sun synchronised orbits at an altitude of 1700 kilometres, each one equipped with a fold-out parabolic reflector. Once fully extended to 200 meters in diameter, each mirror satellite would have the capacity to illuminate a 10-square mile area of land on earth.

The initial stimulus for the project was to provide light for the industrial exploitation of resources in remote geographical areas, with long winter nights in Siberia and western Russia. The scheme aimed to eliminate the environmental constraints prohibiting outdoor work at night. The company subsequently expanded its plans to include the possibility of supplying night-time lighting for entire metropolitan areas. The company’s slogan was ‘daylight all night long’.[2]

Scientists and environmentalists opposed the project. They felt it would have detrimental physical and psychological effects on both animals and humans. The absence of consistent transitions between night and day would disrupt various metabolic patterns, including sleep. Defenders of the project proclaimed that this technology would help to lower nocturnal use of electricity. This would allow for a desperately needed reduction in global energy consumption.

While the project ultimately failed for mechanical reasons; corporate pursuit of the 24/7 working day has not waned. Contemporary businesses continue to distance themselves from natural conceptions of time. They’ve found alternative ways to eliminate the boundary between night and day; work and home life; public and private time. The majority of businesses now operate with online servers, which allow employees to access files from any computer, in any location, at any time. The provision of mobile phones, laptops and tablets to employees provides manager and clients with direct 24 hour access. Employees are expected to be available at all times. These developments have had an irreparable impact on the psyche of the contemporary worker.

While employees understand that they’re legally entitled to a lunch break and that their working day technically finished at 6pm, the implications of following these rules are grave. Long hours and overtime has become a status symbol. Failure to submit to these standards could have a negative impact on the long-term development of their careers. The implied repercussions foster an environment of competition and fear in the workplace. Staff have no option but to submit to the 24/7 working day. Time for human rest and regeneration is simply too expensive to be structurally possible within contemporary capitalism. We live in a world of continuous consumption. Today time is money. The lights of Canary wharf burn bright throughout the night.

Patrick Goddard[2] Patrick Goddard, ‘Greater Fool Theory’, 2015


[1] Verhagen, Marcus (2008), ‘Slow Time: Marcus Verhagen discusses globalisation and time’ in Art Monthly, Vol 318: Jul-Aug 2008, London.

[2] Crary, Jonathan (2014), 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, Verso Books, London.

Image Credit:

[1] YesBut: https://yesbuts.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/3-dsc_1518.jpg

[2] Patrick Goddard, ‘Greater Fool Theory’, 2015 (01’03” excerpt from original 34’00” film): http://www.patrickgoddard.co.uk/greaterfooltheory.html


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