In this pioneering history of transportation and communication in
the modern Middle East, On Barak argues that contrary to accepted
wisdom technological modernity in Egypt did not drive a sense of
time focused on standardization only. Surprisingly, the
introduction of the steamer, railway, telegraph, tramway, and
telephone in colonial Egypt actually triggered the development of
unique timekeeping practices that resignified and subverted the
typical modernist infatuation with expediency and promptness. These
countertempos, predicated on uneasiness over "dehumanizing"
European standards of efficiency, sprang from and contributed to
non-linear modes of arranging time.
Barak shows how these countertempos formed and developed with each
new technological innovation during the nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries, contributing to a particularly Egyptian sense
of time that extends into the present day, exerting influence over
contemporary political language in the Arab world. The universal
notion of a modern mechanical standard time and the deviations
supposedly characterizing non-Western settings "from time
immemorial," On Time provocatively argues, were in fact
mutually constitutive and mutually reinforcing.
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