I always find it interesting when a literary magazine takes on technology. In that spirit, the New Yorker does its best to explain the Network Time Protocol:
Today, we take global time synchronization for granted. It is critical to the Internet, and therefore to civilization. Vital systems—power grids, financial markets, telecommunications networks—rely on it to keep records and sort cause from effect. N.T.P. works in partnership with satellite systems, such as the Global Positioning System (G.P.S.), and other technologies to synchronize time on our many online devices. The time kept by precise and closely aligned atomic clocks, for instance, can be broadcast via G.P.S. to numerous receivers, including those in cell towers; those receivers can be attached to N.T.P. servers that then distribute the time across devices linked together by the Internet, almost all of which run N.T.P. (Atomic clocks can also directly feed the time to N.T.P. servers.) The protocol operates on billions of devices, coördinating the time on every continent. Society has never been more synchronized.
In N.T.P., [David] Mills built a system that allowed for endless tinkering, and he found joy in optimization. “The actual use of the time information was not of central interest,” he recalled. The fledgling Internet had few clocks to synchronize. But during the nineteen-eighties the network grew quickly, and by the nineties the widespread adoption of personal computers required the Internet to incorporate millions more devices than its first designers had envisioned. Coders created versions of N.T.P. that worked on Unix and Windows machines. Others wrote “reference implementations” of N.T.P.—open-source codebases that exemplified how the protocol should be run, and which were freely available for users to adapt. Government agencies, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology (nist) and the U.S. Naval Observatory, started distributing the time kept by their master clocks using N.T.P.
A loose community of people across the world set up their own servers to provide time through the protocol. In 2000, N.T.P. servers fielded eighteen billion time-synchronization requests from several million computers—and in the following few years, as broadband proliferated, requests to the busiest N.T.P. servers increased tenfold. The time servers had once been “well lit in the US and Europe but dark elsewhere in South America, Africa and the Pacific Rim,” Mills wrote, in a 2003 paper. “Today, the Sun never sets or even gets close to the horizon on NTP.” Programmers began to treat the protocol like an assumption—it seemed natural to them that synchronized time was dependably and easily available. Mills’s little fief was everywhere.
This being the New Yorker, one could describe the article as the author explaining how he met this programmer Mills and the politics around Mills' retirement from computing. It's better-written than the Wikipedia article, anyway.