opinion teaser

When time stands still

Traditional watches might be on the way out in some quarters, but I’m lost without mine

On Monday morning I had just got to work, and glanced at my watch to check the time, only to find the disconcerting sight of a wrist that was free from anything resembling a watch (cue “What time is it?” / “A hair past a freckle!” jokes).

I instantly realized what had happened: I had forgotten to put it on after my shower. I have a Citizen Eco-Drive watch that says on the face that it is water resistant to a depth of 100 feet, but I have never put that to the test, preferring to err on the side of caution just in case. It was sitting on the bathroom counter, which didn’t help me a lot, seeing that I was in the Journal office.

“Oh well,” I told myself, “it’s not that big a deal.” In my office I have a clock, as well as the clock on my computer, and my phone is right there, so it wasn’t as if I would have to tell the time based on where the sun was in the sky.

For the rest of the day, however, I kept glancing at my left wrist out of habit. If I did it once, I did it 20 times, so accustomed am I to having the time right there. Each time I did it I’d shake my head and vow silently not to do it again, because there was no point, only to find myself repeating the sequence a few minutes later (cue “What time is it?” / “Ten minutes since the last time you asked” jokes).

I’ve read several articles over the years saying that younger people aren’t wearing watches anymore, precisely because they’re carrying a smartphone that will tell you the time. If they do have a watch, apparently, it’s likely to be a smartwatch of some kind, which in addition to telling you the time will make and receive phone calls, let you check your emails, tell you your heart rate and how many steps you’ve walked that day, keep track of your calories, play music, stream TV shows, and probably open the garage door, turn on the coffeemaker, and allow you to communicate with the International Space Station while you’re at it.

My watch is a simple creature: it tells me the time and (unusually for a woman’s watch) has a little window with the date in it (which is usually out by a day or two, as I forgot to manually adjust it when a month only has 30 days). The Eco-Drive is powered by light, so although I’ve had it for close on 20 years I’ve never had to buy a battery for it, and it keeps perfect time.

In short, it does one thing, and does it beautifully. In my experience, handy-dandy gadgets that promise to do all manner of things in addition to what they were primarily designed for wind up being super-duper duds. Cartoonist Matthew Inman put it perfectly when, in a piece called “Why I Believe Printers Were Sent From Hell To Make Us Miserable”, he noted that while home printers have improved relatively little in the past two decades or so, people might buy “one of those scanner/printer/fax combo printers, which means it’ll suck really hard at three things rather than just one.”

My iPhone has a certain (limited) music storage capability, but I will cling until death to my 160GB iPod Classic, which was designed to do one thing — store an insanely huge amount of music — and did that perfectly. I’m not saying that’s why Apple discontinued them several years ago, but the fact that of all its products it was the only one that had a sole function probably didn’t help its chances, in this wonderful world of multi-tasking in which we now live.

As soon as I got home on Monday I made sure to put my watch on, and I don’t think I looked at it for the rest of the night. Still, it was a comfort to know it was there, and I’m sure it was glad to be back where it belonged. How do I know? Because I can always tell when my watch is annoyed; it looks ticked off.

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