Death Of The Wristwatch

Bluetooth_WatchI haven’t worn a wristwatch in years, and I don’t plan to start again — ever — even if it’s a Prada Bluetooth everything device, like the one at right. Will wristwatches become as much of an anachronism as pocket watches? Matthew Battle writes an obituary in The Atlantic:

Who wears a wristwatch anymore? Although luxury mechanical watches remain status symbols, time may be running out for the clock you wear. For a generation with smart phones and other networked devices readily at hand, the utility of the classic timepiece is unclear. “The Beloit College Mindset List,” a much-cited annual index of the rapid pace of cultural drift in the digital age, observes that members of the college class of 2014 are so unfamiliar with the wristwatch that “they’ve never recognized that pointing to their wrists was a request for the time of day.” Yup, that’s your wrist, old-timer. Touch of arthritis?

Westerners have long been keenly interested in horology, as David Landes, an economic historian, points out in Revolution in Time, his landmark study of the development of timekeeping technology. It wasn’t the advent of clocks that forced us to fret over the hours; our obsession with time was fully in force when monks first began to say their matins, keeping track of the hours out of strict religious obligation. By the 18th century, secular time had acquired the pressure of routine that would rule its modern mode. Tristram Shandy’s father, waiting interminably for the birth of his son, bemoans the “computations of time” that segment life into “minutes, hours, weeks, and months” and despairs “of clocks (I wish there were not a clock in the kingdom).” Shandy’s father fretted that, by their constant tolling of the hours, clocks would overshadow the personal, innate sense of time—ever flexible, ever dependent upon mood and sociability.

His worries notwithstanding, generations chose to indenture themselves to the clock’s efficient mastery, welcoming centuries of development of chrono-mechanical technology: from verge-and-foliot escapements to balance wheels and tourbillons, stackfreeds and fusees to jewel bearings and the piezoelectric effect. The miniaturization of the clock into the watch was key to early globalization’s navigational and communication infrastructure. The watch was not just jewelry, but a marker of the early 20th century’s obsession with making sure that everything—from steamships to infantry charges—ran on time.

Now, in turning to mobile electronic devices and the networked time they keep, perhaps we seek a retooling of the messy, unsegmented sense of time celebrated in Laurence Sterne’s novel. In the 1900s, we told time using a device dedicated to the simple display of the hour, minute, and second. Not so with the watch’s networked offspring. Hundreds of time-related apps are available for the iPhone, from old-fashioned clock emulators to kitchen timers to tools to help keep meetings from running over…

[continues in The Atlantic]

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  • Hadrian999

    if i could get away with it i would carry a pocketwatch but that requires commitment to an entire wardrobe style

    • Alech

      My cell phone IS my pocket watch. Now if they made a pocket watch with a built-in cellphone… Or a cellphone shaped like a pocket watch… ARE YOU LISTENING NOKIA?

  • Hadrian999

    if i could get away with it i would carry a pocketwatch but that requires commitment to an entire wardrobe style

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=612431484 Brian Flowers

    College class of 2012 here: You can have my wristwatch when you pry it off my cold, dead arm. My cell phone has a crappy screen and is a bitch to get out of my pocket. My MP3 player is also rough to get out of my pocket, and the time is in this minuscule font off in the corner of the screen. My watch is always there. My watch can always be read – brightest sunlight to darkest night. My watch can be checked quite inconspicuously – which is good, considering that I check the time about every 3 minutes. My watch doesn’t need charged every night (MP3 player), or every week (cell phone), or every….well, ok, my watch doesn’t need charged. When it says ‘low battery’ that means I’ve got two months or so to go change the battery. Not 30 minutes. And I can check my watch by merely turning my wrist. I can check my watch with my hands full. I can check my watch without needing to push _anything_ or get anything out or _any effort at all_.

    I don’t understand people who don’t wear watches. I mean, it’s not something you usually notice, but I generally just assume everyone is wearing one.

    • oman28

      Yeah, well said. Let’s see, turn my wrist fractionally versus get a mobile out of my pocket then tilt it to the right angle then use my head to shade the screen from the sun then oh what the hell I may as well text someone now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=612431484 Brian Flowers

    College class of 2012 here: You can have my wristwatch when you pry it off my cold, dead arm. My cell phone has a crappy screen and is a bitch to get out of my pocket. My MP3 player is also rough to get out of my pocket, and the time is in this minuscule font off in the corner of the screen. My watch is always there. My watch can always be read – brightest sunlight to darkest night. My watch can be checked quite inconspicuously – which is good, considering that I check the time about every 3 minutes. My watch doesn’t need charged every night (MP3 player), or every week (cell phone), or every….well, ok, my watch doesn’t need charged. When it says ‘low battery’ that means I’ve got two months or so to go change the battery. Not 30 minutes. And I can check my watch by merely turning my wrist. I can check my watch with my hands full. I can check my watch without needing to push _anything_ or get anything out or _any effort at all_.

    I don’t understand people who don’t wear watches. I mean, it’s not something you usually notice, but I generally just assume everyone is wearing one.

  • Synapse

    Cellphones are definitely eating far into the watch market. It won’t kill the watch market because cell phones will never be jewelry (and there are plenty of watches that barely do any good at telling time, just there to look nice.) People barely keep Cellphones for 2 years before replacing them, but there are plenty of people who just use them because they have a digital display as they never found the analog style easy to read (and this is actually a skill.)

    I’ve worn the watch I have on now for about a decade. It’s a great watch, it looks nice, I can read it easily, has sentimental value at this point, and I’ve only had to change the battery 3 or 4 times. You’ll never keep a cellphone that long, and if you do it’s probably way out of touch with the current tech.

  • Synapse

    Cellphones are definitely eating far into the watch market. It won’t kill the watch market because cell phones will never be jewelry (and there are plenty of watches that barely do any good at telling time, just there to look nice.) People barely keep Cellphones for 2 years before replacing them, but there are plenty of people who just use them because they have a digital display as they never found the analog style easy to read (and this is actually a skill.)

    I’ve worn the watch I have on now for about a decade. It’s a great watch, it looks nice, I can read it easily, has sentimental value at this point, and I’ve only had to change the battery 3 or 4 times. You’ll never keep a cellphone that long, and if you do it’s probably way out of touch with the current tech.

  • emperorreagan

    I seldom care what time it is. I have an alarm clock to wake me up and so I get to work on time. Otherwise, I’m not really obsessed with time. Wrist watches are pretty useless for me.

    I would wear a pocket watch, though, because the antique ones passed down through my family are really cool.

  • emperorreagan

    I seldom care what time it is. I have an alarm clock to wake me up and so I get to work on time. Otherwise, I’m not really obsessed with time. Wrist watches are pretty useless for me.

    I would wear a pocket watch, though, because the antique ones passed down through my family are really cool.

  • 5by5

    I wear one. To me it’s more than a time piece, it’s a fashion accessory. And it can be a declaration of geek power just as much as an iPhone. Especially if it’s a Tron watch, or if it shows the gear mechanisms under the face, which can be very steampunk.

  • Anonymous

    I wear one. To me it’s more than a time piece, it’s a fashion accessory. And it can be a declaration of geek power just as much as an iPhone. Especially if it’s a Tron watch, or if it shows the gear mechanisms under the face, which can be very steampunk.

  • Alech

    My cell phone IS my pocket watch. Now if they made a pocket watch with a built-in cellphone… Or a cellphone shaped like a pocket watch… ARE YOU LISTENING NOKIA?

  • Untitled-01

    Watches will be a relic of the last millennium. I’ve never worn a watch because I’ve always had a cellphone or an ipod. Soon everyone will be this way. Very soon now wearing a watch will be a big sign that says “I’m old” if it isn’t already.

  • Untitled-01

    Watches will be a relic of the last millennium. I’ve never worn a watch because I’ve always had a cellphone or an ipod. Soon everyone will be this way. Very soon now wearing a watch will be a big sign that says “I’m old” if it isn’t already.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, well said. Let’s see, turn my wrist fractionally versus get a mobile out of my pocket then tilt it to the right angle then use my head to shade the screen from the sun then oh what the hell I may as well text someone now.

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