The Clockworks Project

The Clockworks Project was an online diary of random moments in my life. A pocket-sized electronic organizer was programmed with a series of times and dates derived from a spreadsheet program's random number generator. The device would beep an average of once per day, but might be silent for a week, then beep five times in one day. I never saw the data, so I would never know when the damn thing was going to go off.

My goal was to explore boring, randomly selected snapshots of my life, as opposed to subjectively chosen significant moments. I had a notion that within the banality of everyday life dwells truth or beauty or something. I'm not sure the data confirmed this hypothesis.

My main discovery was that thought can be surprisingly ephemeral. Often when the beeper went off, I had no idea what, if anything, I was thinking. The distraction of hearing the sound, reaching into my pocket, removing the device and turning it off was often enough to banish any half-formed thoughts back into the mists from whence they came.

We are generally under the impression that we always know what we're thinking at any given time, and that most of our thoughts are solid, distinct objects, easily verbalized. Perhaps this is because those are the only thoughts visible to our conscious mind, a flashlight beam surrounded by the swirling darkness. The vast majority of our mental activity may be more akin to dreams than to what we think of as thought. And like dreams, these unfocused random bits of daydream are rapidly forgotten, easily dissipated by the slightest disruption.

The other main discovery was that most of my actions are as insubstantial as my thoughts.

The Clockworks Project was inspired by Tom Robbins's novel, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.

The Clockworks Project archives

An analysis of how I spent my time

back to the Earl Vickers Museum of Conceptual Art