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.