Boomers Knew What Time It Was

The way we tell time is very telling. If you remember picking up a handset and dialing a number to get the time, then you are indeed a boomer.

Nowadays, time travels with you on your phone, but it’s not just any time, it’s synchronized to an atomic clock. Cell phones send a signal to a satellite with GPS, and the satellite has an atomic clock to keep incredibly accurate time. (The sticklers for detail among us may quibble about the misstep by most Android phones that makes time on an Android slightly off. As knowledge of time has evolved since the software for the satellite was produced in 1984, scientists learned they needed to add 15 seconds of “leap time” to the atomic clock. Apple iPhones adjust for this leap time, but most Android phones do not, resulting in a 15 second discrepancy.)

Meanwhile, back in the Boomer Generation, there were several ways boomers could get an approximation of the current time (if not the more exact time). As just mentioned, you could literally call for the time. Mister Boomer didn’t do that call much, but did find it helpful when setting the time on a wall clock or wristwatch. Then, as now, boomers’ lives were geared to time schedules, so an accurate clock in the house was essential for school, work or social functions. Consequently, no matter where you went, there was a clock. Retail stores, the Post Office, doctors’ offices and every classroom had a clock on the wall.

When you were out and about, many buildings displayed large clocks. Sometimes they topped tall towers, while others appeared on the sides of retail buildings such as department stores, and sometimes clocks were perched atop lampposts on a town street.

A personal wristwatch was another way to tell time. Mister Boomer got his first watch in second grade, and had one throughout his school years, into college and beyond. In the days before digital time, the watch had a spring that needed to be wound each day. The physical mechanism created its own limitations that meant some watches were more accurate than others. Mister Boomer’s early Timex watch would “lose time” each day, which would require the time to be manually reset periodically.

Still, for Mister B and most boomers he knew, a wristwatch was not worn while playing, especially outdoors. In the early 1960s, not every watch was shock resistant or water resistant. That meant a boomer needed to rely on other methods to tell time. In Mister B’s neighborhood, no one was all that good at guessing the time based on the shadows cast by the sun.

If Mister B was playing baseball near the church his family attended, he had another way to tell time. The church bells rang once for each hour, from 7 am to 7 pm; count the number of chimes, know the hour. It came in handy to inform kids when it was time to head home for dinner. As the 1960s progressed, more cities passed noise ordinances that limited, among other things, the ringing of church bells. At that point, Mister Boomer’s family church reduced the bell ringing to celebrate weddings, mark funerals, and as a 15-minute warning that a Sunday service was about to begin.

In 1970, the song Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? by Chicago was released as a single. For boomers, the answer was, yes, we did, and we cared about it. The song, of course, was suggesting people take the time to stop and appreciate the little things in life, but boomers had places to go and things to do. Whether at school or at play, boomer lives were scheduled by time; baseball practice at 9 am; English class at 11 am; family dinner at 6 pm, and so on.

If all else failed, boomers could ask someone they passed if they knew the time. At a time when a great many people did not carry the time with them, boomers found ways to get what they needed.

How about you, boomers? Did you ever call for the time on your family’s phone?