In 1793, when the French Revolutionaries had tired of chopping each other's heads off, they decided to chop up the calendar instead. The illogical hotch-potch of weeks and months were replaced by 12 different months, each with three 10-day weeks. The remaining five days formed a late summer holiday, which just happened to coincide with the season's wine crop.
Instead of being named after obscure Roman deities, the months reflected the prevailing weather or agricultural practices - Misty, Frosty, Snowy, Rainy, Windy, Seedy, Flowery, Grassy, Messy, Sweaty, Fruity and Boozy.
Employers loved the eight-day working week, and because there were no Sundays, nobody had to go to church. Nevertheless, the months didn't catch on, and by 1806, the Gregorian calendar was back.
I was reminded of this on 23 October 1998 (which would have been 2 Misty 203 if we hadn't trounced Villeneuve at Trafalgar), when Swatch launched another system of time. In case you missed it, this divides each day into 1,000 Beats of 1 min 26.4 seconds.
Not a bad ploy by a watchmaker, you might think - to try to make all existing hardware redundant overnight. I thought only the PC industry could get away with that. But the real point of the Beat is to provide a single, global time zone so that surfers on the internet can communicate more easily. This will be based on Swatch's headquarters in Switzerland, so that @0 Beats will equate to midnight, Swiss time, and @500 Beats will be 12 noon, Swiss time.
This gratuitous use of the @ sign has forced me to install Swatch in my personal hall of hate, alongside other perpetrators such as Hale and Pace, who have been re-Christened [email protected] - although as it happens, Hale and Pace were in there already, on account of their not being remotely funny.
My chauvinistic hackles also rise at the thought of an insignificant and pernickity country, which can't even decide which language to speak, trying to control the timekeeping of the developed world.
But what really gets my goat is the sheer stupidity of the idea. The whole point of time is that you can relate what you are doing and when you are doing it to some kind of absolute reality, like whether it's light or dark outside. It's bad enough now, trying to get people to realise that life is different in other parts of the world.
The fact that 4pm here is 8am in California and midnight in Shanghai is important - not least if you're trying to schedule a conference call or internet chat. Telling everyone to be on the line at @708.3 Beats just won't work if one party is in the shower and another is in bed.
Fortunately no one has seriously suggested that I schedule a call using the Beat clock. If they do, I shall suggest that instead we use my own measure of time - the Totally Worthless Internet Timezone, or Twit.
Paul Bray is a freelance IT journalist.
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