lThat nag of the wristwatch to be real, be present, and to stick by one’s intended boundaries of privacy is more powerful than the nag of the phone. The phone nags differently.
by Woody Evans
I regarded it, but this little Casio did not regard me as I settled onto the toilet. In that moment, the watch won me over, and now I’m in the analog-gadget bag, big time.
The face is marred at the fifty-six-minute-mark on this black resin Casio MQ24-7B2 wristwatch. It is physical, is analog, it doesn’t quite fit the left wrist right, and I love it. It’s just too small for me except when worn on the last couple of notches, and over the last year I’ve banged it up working in the yard; some third of a millimeter of plastic is gouged out on the southeast or five o’clock side — scraped the fencerow or something, I dunno.
Over this first year, though, it has kept time to within thirty seconds (runs a little fast), and the numerals’ font is a homogenous mix of the slightly-too-serious and the slightly-sci-fi (in the Handel Gothic family, @greatdismal (aka William Gibson) and his Twitter friends suggest). It is “water resist.” My son gave it to me last year— unclear why he thought it important, but he turned out to be right.
I love this watch for all of the above particularities, and I love it more than any other wearable bit of tech I own. I’ve got a few small blades, including a thumb-sized Mad Max looking lockblade that rides on my keychain. I go, too, for a Night Ize first generation DoohicKey, which isn’t exactly a knife, but has a beveled edge which works for most minor box-cutting-type jobs, carabines onto my extant keyrings, and works as a wrench, bottle opener, and a 40 millimeter ruler. I have a small red SanDisk .mp3 player that’s going on 10 years old, but still works great. Then, in my pockets, I have tins and a palmable plastic bottle or two for mints or meds… and, of course, the phone (Samsung Galaxy S4 — glass face replaced last month after a proper shatter on ceramic tile as I leaned into the fridge for beer and it leaned out of my shirt pocket for gravity).
It’s this 7B2 wristwatch, though, that wins my most favor. It’s an analog, single-use tool in a digital world. It is an information age tool (its only job is to generate information) yet its technology comes from the nautical and industrial ages. It is steampunk, as all non-digital watches are, by virtue of its baroque and overwrought (or, just wrought enough, as it happens) escapements and springs running on quartz-modulated electronic oscillation; it simply keeps the time and displays it in high contrast to human eyeballs. It does this quietly and compactly, and, unlike my phone, it never watches me watch it.
This realization is what moved me from the liking to the loving of the watch — and it could, perhaps, have been any of hundreds of other brands or styles. But it was this little Casio that my kid gave me, this very item, that failed to look back at me as I looked down at it one summer morning before my ablutions.
Time on the toilet is a traditionally private time, and the notion that I could relieve myself without being watched surprised me, and surprised me by surprising me. It immediately pointed to a blind spot I’d carried for some years — playing chess or reading Politico on my phone while in the lav had always meant being observed by the phone I used to play chess or read political news while there. I had learned to ignore that, gotten used to it, made excuses for it, and likely all of the above. Who cares if the NSA or the ISIL wanna look through the peephole to watch you watching your phone, whether on the toilet or on the moon? It becomes a non-meaningful datapoint in trillions of datapoints. Like, who cares already?
But this Casio has taught me better. It says, in its quiet way, hey man, just pick up that Suetonius, read a page, and get the hell off the pot. It says I’m not interested, I’m not watching you, I’m just ticking here, generating time. It says it’s up to you to be on purpose about the time you use. Have some dignity, for Chrissakes. Have some comportment.
That nag of the wristwatch to be real, be present, and to stick by one’s intended boundaries of privacy is more powerful than the nag of the phone. The phone nags differently. It wants all of our unique index fingers to stroke its non-unique iteration of conductive glass, and to tap its set of one of many possible but finite sets of downloaded apps. The phone wants attention. It also looks at us looking at it.
The watch calls me to pay attention to the textural and tactile. The analog watch sends no generic haptic feedback when it reaches the fifteen-second mark, or when the retweets start in earnest. The watch brings new excitement to other carryables, like the mini-flashlight, the penknife, or even the ThumbDrive. One wants to take more care with eyeglasses and their microfiber cloths. We may find ourselves sliding retrograde toward symbols of past gentility — handkerchiefs, snuff boxes — as the hands engage with the eyes in industrial-era objects, totally reproduced and political. We’re okay with that: Walter Benjamin was onto something about reproduction, and the reproduced things are still more real than the apps that try to obviate them. The tie clip and the pocket protector become redeemed as utilities, un-appable, whereas the spirit level lives now in the cloud.
I can be in the presence of this 7B2, and the watch can be with me as I choose what I do, what I read on the toilet, and what towel to use when I dry my hands.
The watch calls me to notice its subtle, definite, finite ticks as it rides beside a black prayer rope on my wrist. The prayer rope is there as an aid to be present in the moment — not unlike the watch. In running my fingers over the knots on the rope, I can warp time or can be warped into noticing weird stuff about time. The second hand lingers a third too long, then time snaps back, and I’m in the busy mode again: the left-brain standard time zone. I do, I make, I analyze. All on time, or in time.
And time’s on my side. This Casio is on my side.
Woody Evans is a librarian from Southern Mississippi living now in North Texas. His work appears in Blunderbuss Magazine, Boing Boing, Rain Taxi Review, Teknokultura, and many others. His bamboo rhizomed this week.