Our theme for the month of February is “color.”
“It’s as if we’ve been placed on a lookout that oversees the entire world and given a pair of binoculars that makes everything look like our own reflection.” – Jia Tolentino, “The I in Internet”
So when I navigate to a website that translates time into colors, what does that reflect about me?
Years ago, I discovered the “Hex Clock,” a website that capitalizes on the fact that both hexadecimal colors and the exact time (hours, minutes, and seconds) have six places. 8:15:26 a.m. equals #081526, #234556 equals 11:45:56 p.m., and so on. In high school, I’d sit in front of my computer screen and watch the colors tick by.
There’s very few places to click on this website, so I imagine I found the “What is this?” link at the bottom of the page quickly. It gives a basic explanation of the clock followed by, “Yes, it’s always very dark.” A part of me was always so tickled by that line that it took me years to click through to “The Colour Clock,” the quote unquote “more beautiful clock.” I guess I had some sort of twisted loyalty to the ugly stepsister.
“The Colour Clock” remained more of a mystery to me. In order to get these more beautiful colors, the time and the color don’t quite match up. The color does not tick up consistently—the increment swings from small steps, like AC to AD, and to large jumps, like B9 to CA (in the blue byte, if you want to get technical). This randomness frustrated me, as I could not calculate the time’s color at whim. If I wanted to know what color it is, I had to actually visit the site. Despite these annoyances, I grudgingly admitted to myself that I enjoyed watching the drastic color shifts of “The Colour Clock” more than the minute changes in shades via the “Hex Color.”
I’ve kept these sites bookmarked on my sea salt ice cream themed Chrome for a while (another thing that I haven’t changed since high school). They have rubbed elbows with random chemistry websites that I saved in hopes that I would definitely look at them again, my senior year performance of The Pirates of Penzance, and a variety of XKCD (four of my favorites linked there, one per letter) comics. In the early years, I’m not sure I could tell you why I was drawn to these clocks. It’s not like I particularly enjoyed the internet equivalent of watching paint dry.
But as the rest of the internet’s walls sprouted eyes to catalogue my every movement and then reflect back only what I want to see, I’ve found myself turning back to the consistency of the changing colors. I’ve gotten sick of being trapped in my Instagram Explore page, which shows me the same former Bachelor contestants and Avatar the Last Airbender text memes. When I find myself frenzied, jumping from website to website and unable to actually start the task I need to complete, visiting “The Colour Clock” can usually bring me back to myself.
Why does this bare-bones website have that effect on me? Perhaps because what you see is what you get—the time is the color; the color is the time. It is the same all the time; it is different all the time. It continues to pass without user input, quietly shifting shades and slipping away.
Yes, it’s always very dark. But in this darkness, I can breathe without the need to do or consume anything. I do not see myself on the page, only the color of this moment. And the next. And the next. And the next.
Alex Johnson (‘19) is a virtual computer science teacher and a proud resident of the Creston neighborhood in Grand Rapids. When she isn’t reading Young Adult fiction, she’s playing board games with her housemates, listening to podcasts, scrolling on education Twitter, and preaching the gospel of intentional community to anyone who will listen.