The Improvement of Punctuality and Time Discipline with the Revolution of Technology

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The spinning jenny, as one of the technological improvements during the time of the Industrial Revolution, not only revolutionized the textile industry, but also largely impacted the society at the time and shaped the modern lifestyle. The purpose of this essay is to analyze the societal and cultural effects that the spinning jenny brought to Britain. In this essay, the effects we shall look into are concerned with time-discipline, which are the socio-economic factors regarding the measurement of time, in the new factory system of work. More specifically, we are looking at how a greater sense of time-discipline caused changes in the norms, behaviours and expectations of British society in the industrial revolution. For reference, we will primarily look into “Time and Work in Eighteenth-Century London” by E. P. Thompson and “Time and Work in Eighteenth-Century London” by Hans-Joachim Voth. In Thompson’s work, it explores the relationship between socio-economic changes and time. Thompson asserts a claim that greater time discipline came in manufacturing plants, he supports this claim through his analysis of literary sources from that era. Voth in his essay seeks to provide estimations on the change in working hours and time allocation from 1749-1763 and 1799-1803. Voth’s research shows a massive change between the two periods which was derived from the analysis of historical court cases at the Old Bailey court in London.

One effect of the spinning jenny is the introduction of stricter rules in manufacturing plants to regulate the pace of work. Regulation first came through in textile mills, where traditional days of rest were phased out. For example, Saint Monday, a day of rest for workers on monday, appeared “to have been honoured almost universally wherever small-scale, domestic, and outwork industries existed” (Thompson, 1963, p.74); however, from 1800 to 1803, Saint Monday and “[h]oly days no longer influenced work activities” (Voth, 1998, p.37). The spinning jenny brought a social change to the way people used to work; there was no longer the days of rest employees enjoyed or the irregular labour hours many artisans enjoyed. Instead, there was iron discipline and cruel exploitation seen in many textile mills, which Thompson takes a witness’s account stating “‘there were no regular hours: masters and managers did with us as they liked.’” (Dundee, 1887, as cited in Thompson, 1963, p.86). From this witness’s account, it is seen that the introduction of the spinning jenny presented a more abusive and restless workplace in the textile industry; highlighted a change in social norms in a workplace, where the employers possess dominating power over the common worker regarding the control their work hours. The effects of this change in social norms is still seen with the standard 8-5 work hours that we have today.

Secondly, a new convention arised the textiles industry: the concept of being “time-thrift,” a way of life where time is used efficiently to maximize work done and money earned. Employers tried to influence this mindset on the employees to inspire them to come and do their best at work to maximize profit, as workers were faced with an “increase in annual workloads amount[ing] to 585 to 738 hours” (Voth, 1998, p.41), as well as the loss of the traditional days of rest and the horrible conditions of early textile factories, such as the Dundee factory mentioned prior. This mindset is developed through the influence of literature such as Rev. J. Clayton’s Friendly Advice to the Poor, where advice like “the tea-table is ’this shameful devourer of Time and Money’ is given”. (Clayton, 1775, as cited in Thompson, 1963, pg. 84) This advice illustrate the changes in common social behaviour and traditions, which could have resulted in a loss of culture in Britain. Additionally, with the adoption of this mindset, there certainly will be effects on society as more and more workers adopt it.

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As the line between work and life slowly closed with the addition of spinning jenny in factories, this greater time discipline changes the social and cultural expectations regarding time in regular society. An example is the change in the schooling system, where “punctuality and regularity [were] written into the rules” (Thompson, 1968, pg. 84). A stark difference from before where Thompson quotes Claytons’ claims that ‘the streets of Manchester were full of ‘idle ragged children’” (Thompson, 1968, pg. 84). At these newly developed school systems, both students and teachers were held to a high expectation regarding their own management of time as “at the Methodist Sunday Schools in York the teachers were fined for unpunctuality” (Thompson, 1968, p.84). This highlights how a social change brought by the spinning jenny lead to a social change regarding expectations involving punctuality. This social change continues to impact the future generation and the importance of proper punctuality continued to be ingrained into common culture. However, this claim can be subjected to a counterargument of the fact that high expectations on punctuality might have existed before the invention of the spinning jenny. Though this argument may seem to have inherent value, once considering how pre-industrial society functioned, the argument is shown to have very little value. This is because common folk had there “working-day [lengthen] or [contract] according to the task” (Thompson, 1963, pg. 60) at hand, suggesting that it was nearly impossible for people to be punctual at social gatherings. Thus showing why proper punctuality was not common in society before the spinning jenny introduced a new way of life for labourers.

One weakness is a deficit of knowledge in Thompson’s work: the lack of historical data. This lack of historical data is explained in Hans-Joachim Voth’s “Time and Work in Eighteenth-Century London”. Voth uses court cases from the Old Bailey court in London to provide quantitative data that Thompson’s work lacks to fill Thompson’s lack of evidence. Voth’s estimations for figures and numbers have a high accuracy of 95 percent as they are based on historical course records from a respected court of law that still operates today. Additionally the scribes in charge of recording these cases were well experienced and respected, meaning the work they did has “a high degree of precision and detail.” (Voth, 1998, pg. 31)

To conclude, this essay analyzes how, due to the development of a revolutionary technology–the spinning jenny–caused greater time discipline. This further led to social and cultural effects during the industrial revolution, including changes in social norms in the workplace, changes in social behaviours for a common worker and greater social and cultural expectations on punctuality in society. These claims were drawn from the sources of Thompson and Voth, where both works complement each other to provide more reliable and truthful knowledge. This allows the claims presented in this essay to be built on reliable knowledge and reach a higher level. There is further research regarding time discipline as it is a relatively new area of study in the field of sociology and anthropology popularized by Thompson in the lates 1960s. New research could very much change the definition of time discipline and make some of the social and cultural effects no longer relevant. Furthermore, more research could be done to confirm Voth’s estimations by looking at other case records at other historic courts in Britain.

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