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On Tuesday, while other outlets emitted oohs and aahs at Apple’s introduction of an horological gizmo that may be the breakthrough moment for the smartwatch, the financial-news site took a moment to discuss the P’s and Q’s of wearing one. The article gathers the thoughts of various manners mavens to present ideas on how not to be rude when equipped for radiocarpal communication. Don’t be a Dick Tracy is the main idea: “Whenever you’re with someone, put the people first and the technology second.”
The point, though obvious, bears repeating. With the potential mainstreaming of the smartwatch in the offing, we risk an epidemic of new rudeness. The problem represents an intensification of the blunder famously committed by George H.W. Bush at the presidential debate of Oct. 15, 1992: The president, checking the time, seemed impatient. Some watches lose time; that one helped him to lose four more years. And to glance at an Apple Watch during an important performance is even more objectionable: One is not just hinting that he wishes to be elsewhere in spacetime; he is actively disappearing into cyberspace. It is the height of rudeness to vanish from a conversation without having the courtesy to physically go away.
Meanwhile, there is the question of the Apple Watch’s reception among “watch guys,” hardcore connoisseurs. At Hodinkee—to which one turns for comparisons of manually wound dress watches selling for less than $15,000 and news about the Patek Philippe Supercomplication predicted to sell for 15 million Swiss francs at auction—the watch guys are ecstatic. “The streamlined look of the Apple Watch recalls the design vocabulary that Dieter Rams instilled in Braun and the futuristic look that Rado pioneered in the 1980’s,” they say.
And, oh, how they say it. The wristwatch is a commodity fetishized in a singular way, as you will have noticed sitting at any high-end hotel bar patronized by business dudes, with their busy Breitlings and minimalist Movados and chronographs with faces the size of salad plates. The watch is the most macho piece of jewelry a man can wear, for better or worse.
In this instance, better alludes to the watch’s connotations of competence, vigilance, and constancy. Retracing the etymological timeline of the timepiece, we see the word watch connected to the responsibility of the watchmen. Looking into the history of the wristwatch, we find ourselves in the trenches: The war to end all wars was the start of the wristwatch’s popular ascent: It’s really rather unpleasant to check a pocket watch when one is being shot at. Picking up The Autobiography of Malcolm X, we mark a spot in the margin next to a line about whom to trust: “I have less patience with someone who doesn’t wear a watch than with anyone else.”
Worse, meanwhile, refers to those aforementioned chronographs with faces the size of salad plates and bezels seemingly designed by fascist architects and the unattractively status-hungry watch guys whose consumption patterns are dissected by other watch guys in blog posts about what kind of douchebag wears which particular model of Audemars. Worse means wristwatches that talk too loudly about the transitive relationship between time and money.
“A watch feels like part of my body,” Orhan Pamuk thinks, and I agree.* It is a decorative item with a metaphysical beauty to it, connecting the wearer to the here and now and to the flow of time. Le Corbusier famously said that the house is a machine for living. The watch is a machine for being alive.
*Correction, Sept. 11, 2014: This article originally misspelled Orhan Pamuk’s first name.