The Confluence Part 5

July 1st, 2011 by Wordsman

Day 233:

A lot of the world’s more fantastic coincidences end up being blamed on the common alarm clock.  You know the story: if the alarm hadn’t failed to go off, then Person X would not have been at Location Y at precisely the right time to meet Person Z or experience Event, uh, Omega.  The idea is that the balance of our lives is so delicate that even the most minor rescheduling can have drastic consequences.  People like to think of their lives in this way, because otherwise they would have to stop wasting time daydreaming and get some actual work done.

One particular alarm clock, however, despised this view.  It had, on several occasions (often after consuming one or two beers), argued that it was a double standard.  How could it be fair to place all the blame on the clock?  “It takes two to tell time!” it would yell, the tipsy alliteration driving its friends to cautiously back away from the conversation.  “One to display, and one to read!”  Yes, the clock is at fault, but the human bears some of the responsibility as well, for accepting what the clock says without question.  How can timepieces be held to standards of perfection greater than those of their makers?  The idea is ludicrous.  And laughable.  And . . . hey, where’d everybody go?

After growing tired of trying to express his point with words (and of always having to take a cab home alone at the end of the party), the alarm clock decided to try a demonstration.  It would go off not one minute early, not ten minutes early, but several hours early.  The world would still be dark.  No other humans would be awake.  If the human realized the error and went back to bed, then it would definitively prove the Dual Burden of Temporal Responsibility Theory.  And if he didn’t, well, then he was just a hopeless idiot.

The other explanation as to why the alarm clock went off at 3:44 AM on that Friday morning is that Peter Hamlin—who happened to own this particular clock—simply screwed up when he set it the night before.  As a matter of fact, that makes a lot more sense.  That first explanation was downright silly, don’t you think?

Then again, you have to wonder: why would he be resetting the alarm at all for a morning that, at least up until the previous night, was not supposed to be significantly different from any other?

What Peter’s clock failed to realize is that humans thrive on routine.  Sure, there are a few eccentrics who live life without a schedule, but there are also clocks without numbers.  You know, those analog ones that only have hands, where you just have to guess what time it is?  It takes all kinds to make a world.

Anyway, the point is that regularity defines most people’s lives, and any irregularities can upset them with ease.  Humans are given cues and respond as they have been trained to.  Show a Days of Our Lives actor the teleprompter from Star Trek and he’ll read it, no matter how inappropriate the lines may be (actually, the effect may be an improvement).  Alarms are just another cue: they go off, we complain, we get up.  That’s the way it goes.  We are Pavlov’s dogs, except we never got a treat in the first place; we’re simply salivating for work.  Pavlov’s dogs got a sweet gig.

A scholar of logic, like the alarm clock, might reason that a person woken earlier than necessary would simply go back to sleep.  Anyone familiar with the human condition would not be at all surprised to learn that as soon as the alarm rang Peter bolted into the shower, or that thirteen-and-a-half minutes later he was sitting at the table with a spoonful of cereal in his hand, looking out the window and thinking, “What the hell?”

Sadly, not all cues have a programmed response.

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