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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Watch Crazy

Why a new watch? And why now (of all the times)?
Regarding the "timing" of this purchase, I can point to a formative moment I had in Switzerland. Standing in the great entrance hall of a very stylish building I came to some sort of conclusion about excellence in design being an inspiration ( see beauty -> message from God -> learn your place -> earn your keep -> make things better -> get to work ). The context was impending fatherhood. I was about a month away from being somebody's Dad. The weight of this event was just making itself known to me. So it was that design moment and now fatherhood that are somehow linked with the timing.

What does a watch have to do with this moment I had in a building? Well, I was in Switzerland - watches, knives, bank accounts, chocolate, they do all those well. Which of those can you have staring you in the face every day? A watch. And let's spend a moment considering the mechanical watch.

Fire Good
It's often said that fire was one of man's greatest discoveries. Sure, fire good. But fire is just about everywhere. It happens without us wanting it, and it's fairly easy to invoke. If you consider that man probably had a handle on fire for tens of thousands of years you'll see that having fire is not nearly as important as having a watch.

Dava Sobel's surprisingly compelling story of longitude explains in detail that not long ago building a timepiece stable enough to keep time in rough seas was a difficult problem to solve. An accurate measure of time is necessary to get a good fix on longitude, to navigate. But once solved, it cracked the world wide open (similar to the internet explosion). Any machine able to keep accurate time, much less in rough seas, is a recent invention. Where fire happens everywhere, the keeping of accurate time happens almost nowhere in the human-visible natural world. People had to go to great pains to not only make clocks, but to come up with the idea of clocks (measuring time more accurately is a lot more difficult than making fire hotter). Where nature created and presented fire to man, man has created and applied the clock to nature. The accurate clock is one of the great tipping points toward the modern world.

A Tipping Point For Your Wrist

This is why I could have hunted down and bought a very nice silver lighter with turquoise inlay, but I instead chose to get a mechanical watch. Which begs the question, why mechanical? Modern digitals are more reliable and accurate than mechanicals - and a darn sight cheaper. True, but it wasn't the digital or quartz timepiece technology that tipped us into modernity. It was the levers, gears and springs of Newtonian science, a clever assembly of simple machines. That's the beauty, and the beauty is where I started.

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