Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Turning the Clock Back

There was a time, not so long ago, when the railway station clock was a byword for accuracy and reliability - indeed, in the 19th century, it played a major part in spreading standard national time across a land where the time of day had hitherto been a rather approximate affair, decided locally. Every station had a conspicuous clock by which you could, back in those clockwork days, confidently set your watch. But now we live in an electronic age and, bizarrely, station clocks are very much less reliable than they were. Of the stations I use regularly, one has a clock that routinely runs about five minutes slow (no doubt causing a few missed trains), the other has a clock that, while still apparently working, has given up all pretence of telling the time. At my London terminus there are several electronic clocks, all of which seem to be running several minutes slow - while the old 'iconic' clockwork station clock nearly always has the right time.
 This seems very odd. You'd have thought that once you'd powered up an electronic clock it would run with precise accuracy until it lost power. You'd never have to adjust it, let alone wind it up, as we used to have to do in the clockwork days. But no - electronic timekeeping simply can't be relied on. Every mobile phone I've owned has gained time, and one - my alleged 'smart' phone - is now running more than 40 minutes fast after a couple of years in which I've left it to its own devices. Surely the very simplest thing a smartphone is called upon to do is to tell the time - but no, that seems to be asking too much, just as it seems to be asking too much of the new generation of station clocks. Once again we have seen the future - and it doesn't work.

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