This article in Aeon was published at around the same time as I published a post on my personal blog about time as a human construct. In that post, I talked about the French Republican calendar and the link between it and the weather.
What’s interesting in this article is that the author, David Henkin, a history professor, talks about the success of the week as being because it’s not attached to religious, cultural, or climatological norms.
Weeks serve as powerful mnemonic anchors because they are fundamentally artificial. Unlike days, months and years, all of which track, approximate, mimic or at least allude to some natural process (with hours, minutes and seconds representing neat fractions of those larger units), the week finds its foundation entirely in history. To say ‘today is Tuesday’ is to make a claim about the past rather than about the stars or the tides or the weather. We are asserting that a certain number of days, reckoned by uninterrupted counts of seven, separate today from some earlier moment.
The modern week has superimposed upon the ancient week a rhythm that is fundamentally social, incorporating an awareness of the demands and constraints of other people. Yet the modern week is also somewhat individualised, inasmuch as its rhythms are shaped by all sorts of private decisions we make, especially as consumers. Whereas Sabbath counts and astrological dominions subject everyone to the same schedule, the modern week makes us aware of our relationship to our networks and to the habits of others, while simultaneously highlighting the variety of our networks and the contingency of those habits.