Saturday, March 26, 2022

Does Anybody Know What Time It Is?

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I bought a one-handed wristwatch, which was designed with only an hour hand. I call it the “About Watch,” because its level of accuracy is, “About four o’clock,” or, “About quarter after nine.”

The reason I bought the watch was to wean myself away from my obsession with time-keeping precision. Most watches I’ve worn in the past 30 years had digital displays that would inform me that the time was, for example, exactly 10:36:17 AM. Has there ever been a time in my life when it was crucial that I knew it was precisely thirty-six minutes and seventeen seconds after ten o’clock in the morning? The answer is no.
If I know what time it is within five or 10 minutes, that is more than accurate enough. I can only think of a couple of occupations where knowing the precise time of day is important: 1) the producer of a live TV show, where you really need to know it is exactly 8:00:00 PM (assuming that’s when the broadcast is suppose to begin); and 2) NASA  Launch Supervisor at Cape Canaveral, where it would be kind of awkward if you were in charge of a 7:30 AM launch, but when 7:30 rolled around you thought it was only quarter after six. On the other hand, in the long history of NASA rocket launches, lift-offs occurred precisely on-time about as often as I’ve won the lottery, so it’s probably not a big deal after all.

Anyway, the reason I am rehashing all this, is because after the original column about the one-handed watch appeared in the newspaper, I received an email from a reader who congratulated me on breaking free from the oppression of time-keeping. At first, I thought this reader agreed with my view that people nowadays are too focused on precise time, when being accurate within five or 10 minutes is good enough during everyday life.

However, as I continued reading the email, I learned that my new pen pal was a bit more radical about the concept of time. He explained that ALL time-keeping is an oppressive system foisted on humanity by evil capitalists. Whereas I concluded that having my watch tell me it’s thirty-six minutes and seventeen seconds after ten o’clock in the morning was unnecessarily too precise, he passionately proclaimed that keeping track of hours and days and weeks was the source of all unhappiness in the modern world.

Um, I’m not sure that’s what I had in mind.
If we did away with all time-keeping, I can think of one person who would be thrilled that his boss could no longer give him grief for getting to work late. But for the rest of us, many things we’ve come to enjoy in our modern world would no longer exist, such as computers, phones, medicine, hospitals, electricity, fuel, cars, clean water, and food. Oh yeah, and ESPN. That definitely would be gone, too. To be honest, I’d rather not give up those things.

I guess if someone has the skill to build his own cabin, chop firewood, and grow his own food, he’d be able to survive — for a while. But the other 330 million of us in this country would be in big, big trouble. The fact is, without some basic, universally accepted time-keeping system, nothing would get done and the entire economy would collapse.
My one-handed “About Watch” is a minor rebellion against an obsession with overly precise time-keeping. But I’m definitely not a Luddite. I don’t want to destroy our modern way of life. Having no food definitely would be a problem. Almost as bad as no ESPN.

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