Its main benefit was to revolutionize navigation -- with reliable time and the sun or stars, you always know where you are, and a new era of exploration and trade began.
But as we entered the mid 1800's, we became obsessed with time. "Efficiency experts" were born, train schedules were invented, and soon after, we started punching the clock, figuratively and sometimes literally.
By mastering time, men (and I do mean men) became masters of the masses, making hundreds, then thousands, and eventually billions of people conform to the idea of "Getting to work on time", "Lunch Hours" and "Coffee Breaks."
Our lives are wound around the springs in Henlein's clocks, or, more likely synchronized to the timed pulses of electricity through quartz or silicon. Even our children have to keep detailed schedules, because we can't imagine a world that isn't structured by the hours in the day.
The Internet is built on these principles of time; it's all about latency measured in milliseconds and packets moving in mathematical harmony. But what's so ironic is that the effect of the Internet is to break down the very notion that things have to happen on a schedule, or have a purpose.
Email was first, and it's wonderful trans-temporal medium. We can now have conversations the way that Victorian gentry played chess by the mail. I can consider, and reconsider your point, write a response, retract it, and then write it again, all without you knowing. I might respond as soon as I get your message, I might wait a few hours, and it's all the same to you.
We have broken time.
I think humans have a tendency to practice "reverse anthropromorphization" that is, when humans take on the traits of objects or systems around us. We used to say the human mind worked like clockwork, now we say it works like a computer.
And now we're beginning to reflect the randomness of the Internet in our social models. Nothing happens to all of us at once, but it happens as the packets propagate through the network.
I've been online long enough to remember the dancing hamster site. And it came back to haunt me in the form of a singing greeting card. It's like an echo from the past. Ideas, photos, pleas for help, all continue like ghosts long after the initial "yop."
But this echo effect, this lack of temporal moorage, has opened up new ways of thinking for human beings. We expect instant access to information where before we had to wait on the library hours. At the same time, we expect that there will be a delay in responses from friends or social networks as we post things; we can put things out there, like this blog, and wait to see what happens, as opposed to being tied to the Monday issue of the paper.
There is no Monday issue, there is no construct of Time.
We now find ourselves in a point in time with events that have no agenda (such as http://www.barcamp.org), which brings us so close to events with no set time. Things happen when it's right, as they did before we measured time. And it's the Internet, based on the springs and gears of 16th century German science that is bringing us bring us back to the basic, tribal nature of living.