Analogue Time Dooms Traditional Watches

Apple watch first timer. What does she know abut analogue time? (courtesy

The buzz surrounding Apple’s watchOS7 software is insane, what with its sleep tracking, new watch faces, automatic handwashing timer and more. It’s no wonder the traditional watch industry doesn’t see smartwatches as competition. They can’t compete. The traditional watch is it’s own thing, they say. A different thing. Yes, well, it’s an analogue time thing. And that’s a problem…

Tens of millions of Americans can’t read a traditional watch. In fact, they can’t read.

Illiteracy graphic courtesy

The U.S. Department of Education’s most recent study concluded that one in five U.S. adults have “difficulty completing basic reading comprehension tasks.” In other words, some 43m Americans can’t read. By D.O.E.’s estimates, a further 8.2m of our residents are completely illiterate (in English).

How many of these 51.2m people can read a clock, and could, therefore, find a traditional watch useful? Some of them? Most of them?

It may not even matter. If you’re below a certain age, chances are you don’t know how to read a clock, no matter how high your literacy level.

A 2017 Oklahoma City study found that four out of five public school students can’t read a clock. Just one in 10 students between the ages of six and 12 owned a watch. Any watch. What are the odds that their first timepiece will be a smartwatch or a device with a digital readout (e.g., Casio G-SHOCK)?

Meanwhile, rest assured that the education system is taking vigorous action to deal with students’ inability to read an analogue clock. They’re getting rid of them (the clocks).


[Malcolm Trobe of the U.K.’s Association of School and College Leaders] said that teachers want their pupils to be as relaxed in an exam setting, and traditional clocks could add unnecessary stress.

“Schools will inevitably be doing their best to make young children feel as relaxed as the can be. There is actually a big advantage in using digital clocks in exam rooms because it is much less easy to mistake a time on a digital clock when you are working against time.”

Mondaine Ultra Thin in the garden

We could argue about the relative benefits of seeing time as a percentage of a whole vs. a numerical count down/up, but no one’s interested in having that argument. At, education reporter Rachelle Hampton has thrown in the proverbial towel.

It’s entirely fair for that skill to fade by the time those kids reach puberty and for teachers to adapt to the fact that the days of analog ubiquity are slowly ticking away.

With the smartwatch providing digital time to literate masses and illiterate millions unable to read an analogue clock, what future for the traditional timepiece?

Bratt Pitt TAG Heuer ad

Instead of spending big bucks sponsoring celebs, instead of developing kludgy hybrid and third-rate smartwatches, the traditional watch industry should launch literacy programs – and sneak time telling into the curriculum.

Even if they did, it would be a rearguard action. The analogue time traditional watch is becoming an anachronism, both for people who know what that word means and, especially, for those who don’t. And never will.


  1. I guess it would be wrong of me to marginalize people lacking the following basic skills: reading a real clock, deciphering Roman numerals, cursive writing with a fountain pen, shaving with a blade, driving a manual transmission, tying a necktie, tying their own shoes, riding a bicycle, breathing through one’s nose. I take that back. I’ll begrudgingly excuse the driving and biking for city slickers, but one not an adult without these skills. Deport these dunces.
    Bring back literacy tests too.

      • The hipsters (not that I’m accusing anyone of that) have taken the reigns from the idle rich in preserving obsolete skills and hobbies, so I wonder how long till they trade in their 80’s digital watches for analog watches, probably hand wound ones if not pocket watches.

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