Forget Payphones: How Cell Phones Destroyed Time

borough hall brooklyn clock

Before everyone had cell phones, I never wore a watch, because I can’t stand the ticking. But I always knew what time it was, thanks to the preponderance of public clocks: in subway stations, on the back walls of shops, even on the wrists of passersby. But since we all started carrying the time in our private pockets, the public availability of the time has taken a hit, just as the payphones all stopped working and no one bothered to fix them—just tear them out, if that. Time is the forgotten casualty of cellular telephones, and look no farther for evidence than Brooklyn’s most prominent clock.  

The analog hourkeeper atop Borough Hall has been stuck at 2:41 for the last four months, the Daily News reports. And though even a stopped clock is right twice a day, the other 1,438 minutes of the day have some people irked. “It’s a disgrace,” a journalism professor told the tabloid. (He also admitted to checking the clock to see if he’s punctual rather than looking at his cell phone like a normal person.)

Present Borough President Eric Adams said the clock stopped working in November, a final act of sabotage by outgoing Beep Marty Markowitz when the gears broke. His office has been asking the Department of Citywide Administrative Services for months to fix it, but the department is still in the process of identifying a specialist who can do the job—as though there’s no rush to restore the time of day to passersby in the borough’s nerve center!

But, you know, despite my joke earlier, not everyone actually does have a cell phone, and that the public availability of the time is one of those things that’s so essential to the functioning of all levels of society that we should maintain respect for it, even if we don’t use it much, if ever, anymore—like the US Mail! It’s one of those things that keeps us, ahem, ticking.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart

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