I decided to have a little fun with today’s essay as I’ve been having fun these last three weeks learning about something new: horology. I’ve gotten back into watches and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it.
It’s time1 for today’s essay.
I've tracked everything about me for four years.
Steps, heart rate, weight, exercise percentage, vO2 max (whatever that is), how much sleep I get, how much of that sleep was quality sleep. The list goes on for quite some time.
I did it all from my wrist. My smartwatch.
Then, one morning three weeks ago, something inside me snapped and I never wore the thing again.
This is a little bit of that story, but mostly it's just about rediscovering a passion.
Let's crack on.
Apple Is Watching You
I can't even remember how I ended up with an Apple Watch.
It's almost as if it appeared one day on my doorstep and Apple hypnotised me into wearing it. I'd previously resisted buying one for years because of one simple fact: they're ugly and don't look like watches.
No, it wasn't about the fact that the Apple Watch is ugly. It was that to call it a watch was like calling a car a watch. It could tell the time and let you know if you was going to be late, but it kind of did a lot more than that.
And this very thing was what started bugging me.
Its features are all just bugs
The very thing I liked about smartwatches was the very reason I ended up never wanting to wear one again.
They track everything and tell you everything.
Steps. Your location. They ping you with new messages. They ping you about the weather. They ping you when you get a phone call. They ping you when the battery gets low. They ping you when your phone's battery is getting low. They ping you about a new tweet. They ping you about a new email.
With the smartwatch attached to my wrist I had a notification shackle keeping me ever-present in the world of things I didn't even need to know. I'd given my watch an all-access pass to interrupt me whenever it so chose.
There were so many times I'd be deep into something and it'd get to 10 minutes before the hour. This time is special when you wear an Apple Watch.
10 minutes before the hour is when Apple Watch sends you a little nudge.
"It's time to stand!"
It was time to stand yes. Time to stand up for myself again.
The final notification
Back to that one morning 3 weeks ago. I received the final notification I'd ever receive on my Apple Watch.
"It's going to rain in 10 minutes."
Oh, thanks. I'm sat at my desk, where I'll continue to be sat for the next 4 hours.
I realised then: this thing is sending me information I don't even need to know.
Why the fuck am I wearing it?
Seeking the Seiko
After that question I knew it was only a matter of time before I ditched it.
I was sick of smartwatches. I was sick of them pre-empting everything and gamifying even a simple thing like going for a walk.
So I started to hunt around for a watch again. This was the first time I'd bought a new watch in over two years and all that excitement came flooding back. I watched YouTube videos about good budget watches. I spent a few weeks researching Seikos, as they seemed to be a good but cheap way to buy a mechanical watch.
I'd decided I wanted a physical machine, not a digital one. If I could afford it I was going to get an automatic one (a watch that winds itself up with your movement). Seiko seemed to give me all those things, and I ended up buying a custom all-black modded one from ebay.
A beating machine on your wrist
As soon as I put this mechanical watch on my wrist there was a relief. Not an obvious one, but just a tiny release in my mind. The cognitive load of managing a computer on my wrist had disappeared. The enjoyment of looking at the watch returned.
Now when I looked at the watch it told me the time. It didn't tell me the weather, what time it was in New York and how little exercise I'd done today.
But not only did it tell me something, it told others something too. A nice watch tells a story, mostly to other people who like nice watches. You're now part of a secret society who looks at somebody's wrist before you look them in the eyes.
You watch a movie and get curious about the watch that the actor is wearing. You spend time trying to find obscure watches that were worn in one movie 30 years ago. You read about its history.
Then you get into all the history of the mechanism that you've chosen. You try to find out how it works and who first made it. You wonder what other watches have used the same mechanism, even whether it's been changed in the last 10 years.
You start reading about balance wheels and beat rates. You know the difference between a quartz mechanism and mechanical one. You know that having an automatic watch is a little like trying to keep a small animal alive. You have to move to keep your watch moving.
You realise that you have a small machine on your wrist and none of it is digital. It's been made, designed and built by hands and humans.
And there's something special about that.
And you never want to give it up again.
I just couldn’t resist the pun. The hour was right.