It’s About Time

I was resetting the clocks in my home for daylight savings time when I had a flashback to my first clock-radio. My parents told me that when I learned to tell time, I could have a Disney AM radio with a clock, nightlight, and alarm. It was pale yellow melamine, and had a parade of storybook characters traipsing across the face. I wanted it so badly, yet I was having a bit of trouble with the numbers on any clock or watch.

My earliest recollection of numerals included both their vibrant hues and their location in three dimensional space. I have number form synesthesia, a perceptual difference that some argue might be better described as ideasthesia, a neuropsychological phenomenon in which activations of concepts (inducers) evoke perception-like sensory experiences (concurrents). When I think of the numbers 1 to 12, I see them to the left side of my visual field and in vertical ascending order: 

I had difficulty wrapping my mind around numerals arranged in a circular, clockwise pattern. It didn’t make sense to me and I had a hard time “finding” the numbers in that round order. It took me a few weeks to get the hang of it, but eventually I groked the concept and got that radio.

There’s a classic number form map from 1888 attributed to a research subject working with the polymath Sir Frances Galton. In that person’s number form, the digits 1-12 resemble a clock face before swirling off to the left:

I find this illustration remarkable, as it reveals the subjects cultural context, i.e. a world of clocks and watches arranged in a circular pattern. It leaves me curious if contemporary timepieces influence synaesthesias and ideasthesias in regard to number forms. How might digital clocks leave their imprint on the brains of synaesthetes? What about devices like Apple watches? It all quite fascinating to me, and I am eager to read ongoing research into these concepts, especially with younger persons who’ve always known digital clocks.

Of those digital clocks, I’ve never much cared for them. I disliked the orange or green glow of the earliest models, and I find the linear fonts unappealing. But more than that, they are silent. There’s no steady metronomic beat of time passing. I adore the tick tick tick of an analogue clock. There’s something comforting to me about that sound, primordial as a heartbeat. As I write early this morning, the only sound in my home is the clicking of the bird clock on my bookcase, the one I reset on Sunday morning. It’s not nearly as colorful and fun as the Disney clock I had long ago, but I love it none the less.