The wristwatch is dead; long live the cellphone and iPod

Watches on the wrists of Te Ara old fogies

Watches on the wrists of Te Ara old fogies

I was sitting at our staff meeting yesterday and looked at my watch to see the time. I then looked around the room and noticed that quite a number of my colleagues were not wearing wristwatches. There appeared to be a generational divide to this pattern, with those in their 30s and under more likely to have naked wrists than their elders. Was I witnessing the end of the wristwatch?

If so, it paralleled the pattern at home. When my son Fred turned 11 we said he could get a watch for his birthday and that we’d go into town and he could choose it. The expedition mirrored one I’d taken with my parents in the 1970s when I was his age. Getting a watch was big deal then – almost a rite of passage. I can still recall the event vividly. It was late shopping night in the middle of winter. It was cold and raining, but the bleakness was punctured by the blaze of street lights, flashing neon signs, and animated shoppers, including us. We ventured into a Lambton Quay jeweller (long gone) which had cases of childrens’ watches beneath the spotless glass counters. My parents made small talk with the jeweller while I scanned the dazzling collection. The first Japanese digital watches were just coming out and I thought about getting one of those, but the jeweller pointed me in the direction of the Swiss watches. ‘You can’t beat Swiss precision,’ he said to my parents. My eye finally rested on a piece with a gleaming stainless-steel casing, luminous hands and numbers, and a date function. That night I wore the watch to bed, diving under the covers to see its luminous face come to life: awesome! (I found the watch a few weeks back in a battered tin of other childhood mementos. I turned the winding knob, but the timepiece failed to tick, or tock – so much for Swiss precision.)

Fred’s trip to Pascoe’s jeweller lacked the same romance. The children’s watches were confined to a single case. Almost all were digital and featured a multitude of “modern” functions: a stopwatch, calendar, two alarms, and other things I failed to fathom. The one he wanted was larger than his wrist, but he eventually settled for a smaller one. Fred seemed less taken with his first watch than I had been with mine. He regularly forgot to wear it, so our hope that he’d become more punctual never happened.  Within a few months he lost it ‘somewhere’. We eventually got him another one, but that was ‘lost’ too. By this time he had a cellphone and was using it as his timepiece. None of his friends wore wristwatches and he did not see the need for one either. As he explained, if he forgets his phone he can get the time off his iPod. For his generation the wristwatch had lost the social status it had claimed a century before.

So like the roadmap – whose demise I’ve previously blogged about – it seems the wristwatch is fast becoming obsolete. However, I won’t be flaunting a naked right-hand wrist (I’m left-handed) any time soon. I like my watch and take pleasure in its simple design. Sometimes I watch its second hand move around the dial for the sheer pleasure watching the passage of time – it can get quite existential. At other times, I’ve glanced at it and been amazed at how quickly time has passed, or vice versa. I’d feel naked without it. What about you?

4 comments have been added so far

  1. Comment made by Nom de plume || November 8th, 2011

    Ben – I remember my first watch. It was a “proper” watch with hands, not a digital display. I remember going into the jeweller’s with my mum to pick it out. It was pink all over – pink strap, pink case with a white face. It met its demise under the wheels of a car or truck – it dropped out of my pocket (I’m not sure why I wasn’t wearing it) into the driveway of the QEII Centre in Tauranga and we later found the innards strewn about. Tragic!

  2. Comment made by Mark (50+) || November 8th, 2011

    Thanks Ben. Yes, I once had a wristwatch, and wore it (fancy luminous dial, etc) for some (perhaps 3-5) years. By my early teens I had found the status symbol an unnecessary and wrist irritating annoyance, and stopped (to be ‘different’ too I suppose) – there always being someone wearing one (I became expert at reading an analogue dial upside-down – digitals were, and still a problem for viewing angle and the time not as easily dicernable at a distance as the pattern of an analogue display) or a public clock within viewing distance. In my university days I took to an older status symbol – a pocket (or fob) watch, complete with chain.

    It is now some 30 years since I have worn a time piece. As you have noted, the ‘personal digital assistant’ and cellphone provide the time (if possible, I set them to analogue display). My current alarm is set to something like ‘Big Ben’, the previous one having scared my partner’s children as it had been used in a horror movie.

  3. Comment made by malcolm || November 8th, 2011

    There’s anecdotal talk too that ‘kids’ can’t read clock faces. I thought about getting a digital watch when they first came in (those same 1970s)but if you’re used to keeping an eye on the time via a clock face, I think you tend t stick with it. Maybe baby boomer could also be called ‘clock-facers’.

  4. Comment made by Kerryn, 33 years || November 10th, 2011

    Since reading this post, I got my act together and had my defunct watch battery replaced. I am now a paid-up member of the fogies club.

Leave a comment

By posting comments you signify that agree to and accept the Terms and Conditions of this Blog.