Coronavirus Watch 5: Killing Time

TAG Heuer Autavia bronze - time out?

The wristwatch is part of the glue that holds society together. I’ve got to pick up the kids in 20 minutes! Let’s circle back at four. Dinner will be ready at seven. I need this out by nine. And now, Coronageddon, an epidemic that’s changing the very nature of time . . .

Thanks to “social distancing” and “shelter-in-place,” the split-second timing demanded by our coordinated schedules has suddenly disappeared. Millions of people are still working, still relying on their watches to make shit happen. But tens of millions of us are completely cut-off from our normal universe of people, places and events.

In this new reality, exactly when you do something is no longer mission critical. Is it 9:30 or 9:53? What difference does that make? You’re not going anywhere. By confining tens of millions of us to quarters, the coronavirus epidemic is accelerating a process that was already underway: the destruction of “factory time.”

That’s time as Boss, constantly reminding us that our physical, financial and sexual success depends on keeping to a schedule. That society’s success depends on everyone staying on schedule. On as many people as possible doing the same thing in the same way at the same time as possible.

Hamilton pocket watch

This mass conformity mindset worked for 200 years – overlooking the Industrial Revolution’s legacy of pollution, slavery and mass murder. Focusing on its advancement of health, wealth and education.

Either way, the shift from agrarian to industrial timekeeping depended on the mass-produced watch – first pocket, then wrist. A device that made it easy for hundreds of millions of people to act in predictable ways.

The always-on Internet changed that dynamic. It obliterated our concept of time and distance, altering the structure of our social interactions in profound and unpredictable ways. The coronavirus epidemic is the disruptor’s disruptor, especially in terms of education and work.

For the first time, our children aren’t being brainwashed by the bell. For the first time, white collar workers are no longer chained to a desk. Their time is their own.

Ball watch underwater

As long as the work gets done, being “late” to school or a white collar job isn’t a thing. You’re free to schedule your own time and thus define it. I fully expect time to remain fluid when we come out of protective hibernation – it’s far more efficient than classroom timetables and the nine-t0-five.

Coronageddon’s impact on our perception of time isn’t just a matter of scheduling. The fear, uncertainty and doubt created by the epidemic is forcing an entire population to live in the moment. After all, what difference does five minutes, five days or even five months make when the virus can strike at any time, condemning you and/or a loved one to an ugly death?

For some, it’s liberating. For others, it’s hell. For some, their watch has become largely irrelevant. For others, it’s an instrument of psychological torture, as they wait for the moment a vaccine finally shields themselves and their loved ones from the invisible enemy.

A Perfectly Useless Afternoon watch on its steel strap

So where does all of this leave the wristwatch?

The watch is becoming more of a guide than a taskmaster. The traditional watch’s accuracy – which is pretty much a given – will take more of a back seat to its artistry. Less math. More poetry. More Perfectly Useless Afternoons, less Longines V.H.P.s.

I’m not saying that the tool watch is dead – there’s beauty in any object whose form follows its function. But let’s face it: the Apple Watch is the ultimate tool watch. And it’s a tie that binds us together in ways that the traditional watch, by its nature, cannot.

Blancpain Villeret Ultraplate 6651 Red Gold Blue Dial

The coronavirus epidemic will cement the smartwatch’s supremacy even as it increases the appeal of high horology – watches whose transcendent beauty reminds us to treasure time, to embrace our fragile mortality.

At the same time, the epidemic will decrease the appeal of reasonably priced traditional watches – timepieces that can’t vibrate with the latest Coronageddon update. Watches that belong to another time.

Click here to read the latest Coronavirus Watch coverage.

Leave a Reply