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Okay so in my world, I have two pre-industrial societies that live thousands of miles apart from each other on their ringworld. One lives in a desert climate similar to India or the Middle East while the other lives in a more Northern European climate, like England, Germany or Norway. I want to emphasize the culture shock the occupying forces of the European-inspired culture when they invade the territory of the Middle Eastern one.

Are there any good reasons or ways their systems for measuring time might differ?

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  • $\begingroup$ Does your ringworld have a day-night cycle? Seasons? $\endgroup$ – Lumberjack Aug 23 '16 at 17:27
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    $\begingroup$ complete side comment....there's a story of an Egyptian military campaign that went awry due to their words. Being based on the nile, North and upstream were the same word for early Egyptians. Their reinforcements were told to march north...however when they came across the Euphrates river, they diverted 'upstream' which happened to be west. If your directions are based on a rivers flow, a new river that flows a different direction can be a culture shock. $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Aug 23 '16 at 17:41
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Time measuring systems are generally derived from astronomical phenomena and seasonal variations, so unless they are on entirely different planets, or there is some way to "decouple" a region from astronomical and seasonal variations, then their time systems will be quite similar.

The day and the year will be identical, for example. Days will be divided into parts to reflect day, night and then further subdivided into parts to reflect working conditions and so on. There will probably be variations there (early agricultural societies had "forenoon" and "afternoon", while more advanced societies might divide the day according to ideas like how long a person could stay alert on the job, somewhat like ship's watches).

The timing of seasonal variations will be quite similar, even if there are differences to the seasons (Winter might involve snow in one area and rain in another, but even in the Middle East it gets quite cold in winter), but there will still be distinct changes in the weather and possibly the length of the day.

Your question is complicated by the fact that it is a Ringworld, unless the Ringworld engineers have taken a great deal of time and effort, the climate and day/night cycles will actually be uniform throughout much of the structure, leaving you with the day and year as the two main divisions of time.

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    $\begingroup$ They could be based on different astronomical cycles though. Solar vs Lunar calendar for example. $\endgroup$ – ApproachingDarknessFish Aug 23 '16 at 4:21
  • $\begingroup$ @ApproachingDarknessFish, I'd love to see the lunar orbit on a ringworld, though I can't think of a stable one off the top of my head. Maybe an inner planet rather than a moon. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Aug 23 '16 at 7:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix Can't you have a moon orbiting the ring world, canted slightly so that it moves across the rings elliptical? The actual nature of the moon would have to be scaled to match mass (and thus it might be a space station not a moon), but that could have a similar effect "from the surface"? $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Ford Aug 23 '16 at 16:01
  • $\begingroup$ @NathanielFord, wouldn't that just class as an erratic planet orbiting the sun rather than the world? It would also always be nearly full (I think, orbital mechanics not being my strong point) $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Aug 23 '16 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix I think the moon would have to be very light: hard to orbit the ring world if it's not more massive. But depending on how the ring world was spinning (it has to spin like a wheel but it could simultaneously spin like a ring spinning on a table), the day/night and lunar cycles could be very interesting indeed - including having different moon phases. I don't see anything that explicitly prevents a ring world from having a moon though. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Ford Aug 23 '16 at 16:12
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Legacy and efficiency

These are the reasons they would use different times. One side would be using an old system, perhaps our familiar one, but the other perhaps is more concerned about precision and ease of efficient use. for example, they might use fractions of a day, or multiples of a second, which leads to my next idea.

Different opinions on efficiency

Perhaps they both feel the same about using power of 10 (1 followed by n zeros, or .(...)1 with n zeros between radix point and 1 ) multiples, but have a different emphasis on what the base point should be. Perhaps one society uses days as the base, dividing it into 100 parts, with 100 parts within those, but the other uses seconds or minutes as the base time, using multiples to acheive larger timeframes ("The planes will arrive in a 10 kiloseconds", or maybe some other factor). This could show a difference in emphasis on precision, and general time, and civility, of the seconds and precision being most important, to day and occasion being the most useful part of time

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Don't Use (Astrological) Periods

So, as others have said, calendars are typically based on solar cycle or lunar cycle. Once you've got a year, you can chop that up (you don't have to have 12 months) into finer and finer pieces. Even the second and minute were initially defined as fractions of the solar day.

Key to this is that the year repeats when the sun reaches the same point in the sky. It's periodic.

Why not have a culture that tells time purely linearly, not cyclically? For example, in Star Trek, you have different planets with different orbital cycles, so why would Vulcan agree to a time system based on Earth's rotation around the Sun? Just find something that ticks off consistently (like Earthicans currently use a certain number of Cesium 133 vibrations) and start counting those off.

Don't Use Any Periods

Or, you could be totally fugazi and not even use a consistent time marker. Like a fanatical culture that measures time by the heartbeats of the Emperor. The rightful Emperor wears a (pre-industrial) chest monitor that wirelessly updates the Central Time Net or something. And everyone lives by that because he's the gd dmn freaking Emperor. If the Emperor gets nervous or excited, literally time speeds up for that empire. Yeah it seems stupid to us, but we just don't know how deeply the Emperor loves us (yet).

You could also get Game of Thronesey and not really have constant seasons. Like, what is up with Summer and Winter lasting different numbers of years? That could also explain why cultures on the same planet would invest vastly different systems.

Who Even Cares?

Of course, you could also have a culture that lives on "island time," which is to say, they don't really pay much attention to time at all. Like, time is measured by how many spliffs you've smoke that morning. (Sounds good to me.)

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There is a slight ambiguity here. Which measure of time are you referring to, here? The concept of years, months and weeks, or dividing a day into hours and minutes? Well, I will discuss both aspects briefly.

Concept Of Year, Months And Weeks

People here on earth have devised some remarkable ways of defining a year. Here are some prominent nominations and their variations for your world.

1- Lunar versus Solar calendars

This should be self evident. A lunar calendar is primarily based on defining a month (one complete cycle of a tidally locked moon). It then goes on to define a year as a group of x number of months. Contrary to this, a solar calendar primarily defines a year (one complete cycle of the planet around its parent star). It then goes on to define a month as a division of the year.

In your world, you can have solar and lunar years for different civilizations, and, depending on the number of moons the planet has, there could be several variations of the lunar year.

2- Different Month and Week definitions

Even for cultures which have the same number of days in a year (i.e. 365), there are several variations for defining the months. For example, the Julian calendar has 12 months with varying number of days, to a total of 365. Compare this to the Mayan calendar, which had 18 months of 20 days and another 5 days to complete 365.

Similarly, while most civilizations used a set of 7 days for the count of a week, the Mayan week consisted of only 5 days.

In your world, you could have an exotic method used by some civilizations, where they base their month on one moon and the weekday on another. The week-moon should be very predictive in its phases as week is the only solid, unchanged thing in the whole calendar.


I shall return to answer to add some discussion about division of a day into hours and minutes, if OP requires.

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In emphasizing culture shock - the choice of time measurement is an interesting one. Usually you would see descriptions of things like the comparative value of a life, or if one culture had slavery, or if one culture was matriarchal, or if one culture was evolved from bears (a little silly but I've seen sillier). There are so many ways to present culture shock, if you wanted to showcase time difference you could do what they did in the first MIB movie where they made the day a couple of hours longer and it took some time to adjust. Interesting question.

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