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Living By Kairos Time in a Chronos World

August 17th, 2022 | 9 min read

By Josh Pauling

Lewis Mumford wrote in his 1934 classic Technics and Civilization that “the clock, not the steam-engine, is the key machine of the modern industrial age.” Due to the mechanical clock, “time-keeping passed into time-serving and time-accounting and time-rationing.” Mumford explains that, “as this took place, Eternity ceased gradually to serve as the measure and focus of human actions.” Humanity’s relationship to time was forever changed as “abstract time became the new medium of existence. Organic functions themselves were regulated by it: one ate, not upon feeling hungry, but when prompted by the clock: one slept, not when one was tired, but when the clock sanctioned it.” Mumford was putting his finger on something important: the shift from a natural, narrative, and organic view of time to a mechanized, segmented, and abstract view of time. The Greek language captures these two very different approaches to time with the words kairos and chronos respectively. In today’s world, driven almost exclusively by chronos, finding ways to allow kairos to punctuate and permeate our lives can reorient us towards permanent things and higher goods.

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