03 July 2008

Mechanical Watches and the Tamagotchi Gesture

The allure of the mechanical watch came surging to the forefront of my consciousness over the past year or so. It has proven to be an expensive compulsion, too. Each watch is (er, seems) more desirable than the last, and the grand sum even exceeds the "grail watch" you wanted most to begin with. As it stands, I still don't own a 70s era Rolex Submariner, but I do have a bunch of other handwind and automatic watches.

Like all mechanical and analog devices, the watches require a certain amount of care. At the most basic level it consists of winding the mainspring or at least wearing an automatic watch, which will wind itself from your normal wrist/arm movements. At the higher level, mechanical watches require a certain degree of maintenance: perhaps a cleaning, lubrication and adjustment ("CLA" to the cognoscenti) every few years. The living genius William Gibson addressed the issues of watch collecting and maintenance in an essay for Wired magazine.

I do own one quartz watch which I plan on selling soon. Quartz watches were the rage in the late 1970s, and still have the lion's share of the consumer market. They are cheaper to manufacture, more accurate and less demanding of service, needing only a new battery every few years. But as evidenced by a trip to virtually any thrift store, most people just use them as costume jewelry and toss them out when the batteries go dead, particularly if they actually look like costume jewelry.

I suppose it is an inevitable result of aging that you pine for those things that seemed to be the bee's knees in your adolescence. In my case these are typewriters, Rolex watches and a few other things. It is sad to reflect that even these relatively harmless objects of desire were originally inserted into my brain by advertising. I distinctly recall perusing the Rolex ads in whatever magazine I was reading back then (maybe Outdoor Life or Field & Stream or later, Playboy). Unfortunately such ads also helped cement the Camel guy as a cool dude. This and an already smoking friend helped lead to a decades-long nicotine addiction (though now it's sated with 2mg gum).

Still, dubious origin and all, mechanical watches are another link to the past and another way of slowing down the warp speed of daily life. You must choose which one suits the occasion and your attire, wind it and set the time. And no longer can you dial P-O-P-C-O-R-N on your telephone! Ma Bell in her infinite wisdom has done away with that time-telling service.

Which makes me wonder about rotary dial telephones. Do the telcos still support pulse dialing? If so, I'll be looking for one of those wall-mount rotary dialers soon.

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