Who can't tell time on an analog clock?

I recently found out a girl (20) who has worked for me for about a year and a half cannot tell time on a clock. Yes, really!

She is a shift supervisor and performs the majority of her duties at an acceptable level and does not seem to have other anomalies.

This baffles me.

Maybe, if you had never seen one before, the multiple hands moving at different speeds might be confusing (which is which? is VIII 8 minutes or 8 hours?) But where would you live near civilization that you would have failed to notice all the clocks? There are really, really small hamlets out there, though. What was her excuse ?

On the Wikipedia talk page for Clock Face, a user wrote a comment that in part says

This surprised me too when I first read it, but if someone really has little to no experience with analog clocks, I could believe that they’d need some help with it. Reading an analog clock face is certainly not as intuitive as reading a digital clock.

I am visiting my son now and I don’t think there is an analog clock in the house, so my 12 yo grandson might not be able to read one. I was at my daughter’s a few weeks ago and the same thing. My other son has several analog clocks in his house and I assume his kids are bihorological.

Actually, I just checked with my grandson here and his parents at some point bought him a dial watch and insisted he learn to read it.

Ask a young child to use a dial phone. They won’t have any clue about how it works.

It’s been fifteen years, but when my older nephew was nine, he saw his other aunt, my sister, use the dial phone I had in my living room. Afterwards he asked “How did you do that?”

My 12 year-old can read analog clocks however is not very skilled in reading one if there are no numbers on it.

I grew up not being able read a sundial and I turned out ok. Everyone has a cellphone nowadays. Time marches on, as it were.

Just asked my 16yo daughter. She said clock reading was part of the K-2 age curriculum at school. she doesn’t recall the exact year but said it was very early. Advantage of a rural Christian school I guess. Didn’t waste her time with prehistory or the sciences, just useful stuff like clocks and who begat whom. :wink:

Growing up the only clock in the house was a cuckoo clock with Roman numerals. I could tell time with it, but couldn’t associate the Roman numerals with the equivalent Arabic numerals. If asked what time it was, I’d look at the clock and say it’s IV or IX until IV, and knew a favorite TV show was on when the small hand was on VII and the big hand was on XII. It helped that it cuckooed hourly. Before I could count, Ia’d ask how many cuckoos it was and associated events on when I heard it nexr.

It wasn’t until we learned to read time (1st or 2nd grade?) was I able to piece together that the Roman numerals corresponded to Arabic numerals.

Don’t all schools still have analogue clocks on the wall? My kids’ schools did, right above the door, just like when I was a kid.

You can pick it up through osmosis, or I imagine it can be taught in like 10 minutes.

I’ve been around a long time and have never witnessed anyone who could not tell time looking at an analog clock or didn’t understand that dial phones were a predecessor technology. I’m pretty sure it will happen in my lifespan, but not yet.

Hopefully she never becomes a pilot where she has to read an analog altimeter!

The thing is, these products are supposed to be intuitively obvious to use (the clock hand points at a number; the telephone dial only turns one way, and you can hear the clicks). Are there hidden cultural assumptions that would make this not be the case? (Roman numerals that may not be universally known are one example.)

Off topic, but In 2001, I worked with a 20-something year old that had never seen a turntable before and was completely fascinated with it (his friend was setting up a DJ mixing setup). He kept picking up the tonearm and dropping the cartridge on the turning record! As a former audiophile, it literally turned my stomach!

Here’s a kids react to rotary phones video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkuirEweZvM . Not only does the dial confuse them, but the fact that you have to pick up the receiver and wait for dial tone. Does anyone say they’re going to ‘dial a number’ anymore? When my sister replaced the home phone with a cordless one, I would continually forget to turn it on before using it.

Also, we’re two generations (in phone years) away from the rotary phone. Some phones directly replaced the dial mechanism with push buttons in the same place they were on the dial and later the calculator layout became the standard. Anyone remember the Princess phone that stood up and had the dial on the bottom? There was a big button on the bottom that disconnected the phone when stood up and connect the phone when picked up. You had to lay the phone on its side if you wanted to pause your call because it would immediately disconnect if you stood it upright!

I don’t think an analog clock is particularly intuitively obvious. There are two or three hands, not one, and how do you know what each one means? Also, in general, NONE of them point to the numbers that make up the time. The hour hand is generally pointing between two numbers, not pointing at one, and some clocks don’t even have hour numbers, or show them in Roman numerals, adding another complication. The minute hand’s value is totally unrelated to the numbers printed on the face and must be memorized (most clocks don’t of course have minute numbers on the face). The second hand is there solely to add to the confusion. If you use clocks every day, reading it becomes second nature, but it certainly requires some training at first.


If it was intuitive children wouldn’t have to be taught to tell time. Unless there’s some method unknown to me, telling time is always preceded by learning numbers, at least to 60 (minutes/seconds). Then there’s the necessity of knowing that 12:59 isn’t followed by 13:00 (unless you’re learning military time and even then it’s thirteen hundred).

I’ve told this before, I think, but it’s appropriate:

We were in Alaska on a whale-watching boat. I was standing near two teenage girls and overheard this conversation:

“There’s one!”


“Right there!”

“I don’t see it!”

“There, at ten o’clock!”

“I don’t know my o’clocks!!”

A meter reader glanced at our gas meter for less than a second, then looked away and wrote down the reading. Note that this type of meter has four small dials which alternate clockwise increasing/counterclockwise increasing. I could figure out the reading given several seconds, but he got it in a glance just as I would with clock face. It’s all about what you’re used to.