Published April 8, 2022

NDistinct Chatter: Watch the Watch

Written by
Kelly Hagen
| The Dakotan
[Photo: Kelly Hagen]
[Photo: Kelly Hagen]

I have a complicated relationship with my wristwatch.

It wasn't always like this. When I was so much younger, I wore a watch for the same reason most people do: telling time.

But even way back then, in the Before Times, watches had other purposes. Remember calculator watches? One of the first "status symbols" I ever begged my parents to buy me was one of those little Casio calculator watches with the even littler buttons you had to use a toothpick to push successfully.

Additionally, you had to remember to silence those buttons if you wanted to use it for a surprise math quiz. I think they used to bar me from wearing a watch to math class, for a time in my adolescence, which is a bummer.

I had other watches that did other things. A watch that kind of played the Legend of Zelda video game. A Tamagotchi-like watch with South Park characters who yelled different things when I pressed different buttons.

The bonus to these watches, in those far away days, was the size of them. Watch batteries weren't small then, particularly when they were powering animations of Cartman yelling "Beefcake!" so these specialty watches were kind of enormous. All the better, I thought, for hiding my thin wrists from bullies and/or girls I liked.

Plus, the weight of the things was good exercise for my spindly arms. Or so I wished.

My first "smart" watch was just an iPod Nano I attached a watch strap to. It wasn't all that smart, but I could tell time on it and listen to a short playlist of music when I attached earphones into my wrist.

Music ought not to emanate from a person's wrists. I think. Unless they're playing a violin, maybe. There are exceptions to all my rules. I’m flexible.

Which is why I was willing to expand my wristwatch-wearing horizons and purchase an actual smart watch, the Apple Watch, back when they were introduced.

After so many years of having watches that did things besides displaying the time it was, I thought then that I was ready for a clock that was so much more than a clock.

I wasn't.

I'm a Gen Xer, just barely, so I can still remember a time when a phone was just a phone. Now they're everything, and everybody spends every waking minute of every day, staring at their phones. Go back in time to 1986 and say that sentence out loud; no one will believe you. Partially because it sounds crazy, and partially because we were all waiting for nuclear Armageddon to happen, at any minute. That tends to be distracting.

How the times have changed, right?

The Apple Watch was too much, too soon. As I explained earlier, I was cool with clocks that had a second purpose. Not just ones attached to my wrist, either. The microwave had been successfully balancing the twin tasks of telling time and warming up burritos for longer than I can remember.

Suddenly, though, I had a clock on my wrist that also functioned as a remote for the TV, tricked my heart rate, set goals for how many times I stood up each day, alerted me to changing weather conditions, paid Target for all varieties of cheese, shamed me for not exercising, etc., etc., etc.

It's also a phone, somehow. Dick Tracy knew it all along.

As I said before, I'm Gen X, so the ADD is strong in me, and I've already forgotten what I was talking about and have been distracted from finishing this sentence no less than seven times, no joke. One of these distractions was me just staring at my dog, wondering if he thinks I'm dumb. I hope not.

None of the distractions came from my watch, though. I'd love to tell you this is because I'd wised up and got off the grid with a watch that's just a watch, like God intended.

Alas, it's because it is on its charger. I need to charge my phone and wristwatch once every 24 hours or they stop functioning.

Again, tell someone from 1986 what I just told you, and you'd get placed in a facility. Thank God the Apple Watch doesn’t also facilitate time travel or we’d all be in trouble.

It's fine. Some of the things my watch does are helpful. One time I was thrown off my bicycle while descending a hill and my watch alerted my wife and dad that there was an "incident" so they should check on me. They did, and I was fine, but I thought it awful thoughtful of my wristwatch to do that.

I’ve got an app on my watch that will translate my words into multiple languages. That might come in handy one day. Also, now that I’m in my 40s and require regular exercise, the watch keeps track of the time spent exercising, calories burnt and telling me when my heartrate has risen to the level at which it might burst out of my chest, and I can dial it back a little.

I even took the photo attached to this column by pushing a button on my watch. Thanks, watch. It’s beautiful.

So, yeah. I hate my watch. I love my watch. It’s complicated.

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