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CR: The New Centennial Review 1.1 (2001) 141-173
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The Timezone Endgame
E. L. McCallum
Michigan State University
YOU'VE SEEN THEM IN TRAVEL AGENCIES, NEWS BUREAUS, AND LOBBIES OF multinational businesses: the row of clocks lined up with names of cities under them, each face showing a different time. New York: noon; Paris: 6 P.M.; Tel Aviv: 7 P.M.; Moscow: 8 P.M.; New Delhi: 10:30 P.M.; Kuala Lumpur: 1 A.M.; Tokyo: 2 A.M.; Sydney: 3 A.M.; Honolulu: 6 A.M.; San Francisco: 9 A.M. Which particular cities are listed is a matter of indifference, really, though there are always the usual suspects—the point is that they all are both collected and differentiated by time. While the display is no doubt intended to function as a reminder of the company's global reach, it has another effect: that is, to transform distance into time, and even to slow speed into an interval. Tokyo is not simply 11 hours away from San Francisco, but 17 hours ahead. 1 The difference between Tokyo and Sydney is defined not as a difference of language, culture, or politics, but an hour. And if this array of clocks was initially used in railway stations for travelers to discern the moment of their arrival by local time, it may be all the more remarkable that airports are singularly without this temporal figure, resolutely situating their travelers in the perpetual present of nowhere. As if reinforcing the transformation [End Page 141] of distance into interval, space into time, these airline travelers are now called customers, in a perhaps unintended play on the traversal of national boundaries through customs checkpoints that nonetheless erodes the sense of mobility connoted by "travelers" and "passengers."
Perhaps this contrast, this transformation of the clock figure, best exemplifies the shift that has occurred in our relation to time and citizenship. As the chronographic row becomes less an instrument of a traveler, like a compass or a map, the clocks become more a signifier of difference than of distance or locality; the display distinguishes the cities simply as signs in relation to one another. Since the standardization of time zones by the railways in the nineteenth century, we have become accustomed to time differences, as long as they are correlated with spatial differences. 2 The quaintness of this row of clocks in a digital age suggests that the nineteenth-century ordered correlation of time and space no longer quite holds in our postmodern experience, thanks to distance-compressing teletechnologies like airlines, satellite communications, cellular telephones, and computer networks. While this technological transmutation of time affects innumerable aspects of social intercourse and private experience, the questions I will concern myself with here hinge on the temporality of citizenship, and my strategy for considering them will take a dual approach, combining a synthesis of several examples and texts with a more detailed, close reading of one text, Paul Virilio's Open Sky, which not only brings together all three concerns of technology, time, and citizenship, but enacts some of the very hazards these changing times entail. The contrast between the two modes of synthetic and close reading illustrates how we might embrace divergences in the experience of time, which is one aim of my argument. But I also want to consider how citizenship now is changing or challenged if space—which had previously afforded citizens their rights, obligations, and protections—is becoming temporalized, ceding its primacy to time as our experience of temporality is changing. What rights, obligations, and protections might citizenship afford us in time? If new technologies and corporate configurations are inviting or pushing us to become more dislocated and asynchronous, can citizenship protect us from the dangers this dislocated asynchrony may pose, while affording us the freedoms it enables? In the midst of discussions [End Page 142] about the disappearance or transformation of the public sphere, no one has been concerned with public time, paused to ask whether citizenship were even possible without a common citizen's watch.
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