The Blinking 12:00

Primarily on VCRs and stereos

The digital clock replaced the geometric sweep of the sun across the sky or hands across a clock face with the relentless march of discrete moments. Whether green, red, blue or pure white, its digits glow on automobile dashboards, bedside radios, kitchen appliances and countless varieties of consumer electronics.

When an analog clock stops due to a broken gear or an interrupted power supply, its hands are frozen in place, a monument to the instant of catastrophe. Under similar circumstances, digital clocks simply go blank (with rare exceptions: the clock on my grandfather’s desk, for example, whose digits were printed on small cards that would flip into place minute by minute). Should one resolve the problem, most digital clocks signal their distress by petulantly flashing the first instant of the day, and one of the burdens of modern life is returning from a vacation to find that a brief power outage has left your home temporally frozen at midnight.

This blinking 12:00 is a diagnostic device which informs us, “Something has happened, so please reset me.” Left unaddressed, however, a blinking 12:00 is an unrelenting reminder to anyone within eyeshot that a clock’s owner is unable or unwilling to reset her clock.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Josh Greenberg

Josh Greenberg is an assistant professor at George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media, and is working on a book about the early history of VCRs and video stores. His website is

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